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81-year-old veteran, held hostage in motel for 4 years, had benefits stolen

A video screen grab shows police arresting Perry Coniglio at a hotel in Highlands, N.Y., where officials allege an 81-year-old veteran was held hostage for four years while his benefit checks were being stolen.

By ELAHE IZADI | The Washington Post | Published: July 21, 2016

The elderly Marine Corps veteran was held hostage in a cramped motel room about 50 miles north of New York City, according to authorities.

Video of the room, shot by the Hudson Valley News Network, depicts the squalid conditions where the 81-year-old was kept.

On Tuesday, police arrested a man they said held the veteran hostage at the Highlands motel in order to steal his benefit checks, The Associated Press reported.

The veteran, who police said has advanced dementia, told authorities he thought he had been in the room for four days, according to WABC-TV. He had been there for more than four years, police said.

"We believe that he is the recipient of a tremendous amount of money every month," Town of Highlands Police Chief Jack Quinn told reporters.

Perry Coniglio, 43, is being held in the Orange County Jail, AP reported. Charges against him include unlawful imprisonment, grand larceny and endangering an incompetent person, according to HVNN.

"Through eyewitness accounts and videos, you can clearly see this individual was taking advantage of a mentally incompetent person, and he exercised control over that person with brute force and intimidation," Police Detective Joseph Cornetta told HVNN.

Quinn referred questions to the detective, who did not immediately return The Post's inquiry.

But Cornetta told HVNN that the victim rarely bathed and was fed one bowl of cereal a day.

"Through the goodness of guests or residents at the motel, they would bring him food when they could, but they tell us the food was far and few in between," HVNN reported.

The veteran had been receiving Social Security benefits, pension checks and food stamps, Quinn told the AP.

Coniglio sold the veteran's vehicle, and by acting as the elderly man's guardian, withdrew his money from the bank, Cornetta, the detective, told HVNN.

The detective said "concerned citizens" came forward with video showing the elderly man being forced back into his room with a long stick.

Coniglio's motel room was next to the victim's, police said.

Since the arrest, the veteran has been taken to the hospital for evaluation, police said.

One neighbor described to local media how she would see the veteran being held and walking around naked outside.

"He didn't deserve to be treated like that, especially being a veteran," Natasha Blanc told HVNN. "He deserved food and water and shelter-not abuse. I hope the old guy gets the kind of care that he deserves."
 

A video screen grab shows an 81-year-old veteran who was held hostage in a N.Y. hotel.

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