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Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre recovering from pair of thefts

Stolen cash suspected to be an 'in-house' problem, directors say

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The Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre is still recovering financially after a total of $2,600 was taken from a locked cabinet in the organization’s office on two separate occasions in October, employees said.

“It’s been very traumatic,” said Marguerite Keller, co-director of the Brotherhood. “…You get a real sense of violation when something like this happens.”

The Hispanic Brotherhood — at 59 Clinton Ave. — is a nonprofit that was established in 1984 by a small group of Latino residents to assist the growing population of immigrants from Spanish-speaking cultures.

It provides youth services, employment assistance, emergency services, scholarship awards, immigration counseling and programs for senior citizens. The organization is funded mainly by grants, Keller said, as well as an annual scholarship dinner fundraiser in May.

Cash payments for the Brotherhood’s senior citizen nutrition program and after-school tutorial program for children were collected on Sept. 27, counted and put into the cabinet, according to Keller’s mother, Executive Director Margarita Grasing. The money was to be deposited on Oct. 1. But when they opened the cabinet a few days later, more than $1,000 in cash was gone.

Grasing, Keller and Grasing’s assistant are the only people who have a key. Grasing said she suspects someone made a copy of one of the keys and broke in. A locksmith added a bar with another lock to the cabinet for extra security. “They wouldn’t dare touch that one,” Grasing said. “We were wrong. …They took everything.”

Grasing had hid an extra key for the new lock in her desk. On Oct. 29, the Brotherhood discovered that a similar amount of money collected for those two programs was gone. “Don’t ask me how they found that key,” she said. “We don’t know who did it.” They suspect the problem is “in-house” however, because, Grasing added, “They know that on the last Thursday of the month, everything is put in there.” None of the building’s doors were broken or damaged.

The Brotherhood has changed the door locks, Grasing said, and the cabinet now has a number code. “No more keys. I can’t take keys anymore,” she said, noting that the Brotherhood started depositing money every few days.

Rockville Centre police responded to both incidents, which were classified as grand larcenies. After doing an initial investigation, the department passed the case to Nassau County Police Department’s First Squad, which is conducting the follow-up investigation, according to village spokeswoman Julie Scully.

The Brotherhood has 14 employees, and a list of their names was sent to police if they wish to question them. A Nassau County detective working on the case said he could not comment.

In addition to the roughly $2,600 taken, the Brotherhood recently spent $5,000 on security cameras, and is seeking donations to help recoup what they lost. The Rockville Centre Community Fund gave $1,000 to the organization on Nov. 1 to upgrade its security, and on Nov. 20, known as Giving Tuesday, Grasing started an online fundraiser, which had collected $415 as of press time Tuesday.

“For more than three decades, the Hispanic Brotherhood of Rockville Centre has been a beacon for Hispanic residents with the resources, information, and assistance they need to successfully assimilate into the American culture and to see their American dream become a reality for their children,” Mayor Francis X. Murray said in a statement. “It is our hope that this donation will help to improve their security system so they continue to fulfill their mission.”

The Brotherhood operates on funds from federal, state and local grants, and had a budget this year of about $600,000. But Grasing said the Brotherhood must often pay employees and program costs before they see any money from various agencies and governments, and dipping into their funds for security upgrades was costly.

“We’re able to do a lot but, unfortunately, money is what gets everybody going,” Grasing said. “For the first time, we’re really in trouble.”

The Town of Hempstead Board, for example, voted in September to give $30,000 to the Hispanic Brotherhood, which Keller said would go toward its after-school program that currently serves 28 students from Rockville Centre and Oceanside who range in age from 5 to 12. But they have not yet received the money. Nicole Parisi, a spokeswoman for the town, told the Herald that the Brotherhood should receive the check by next week.

Still, Keller said she is tasked with making up the roughly $8,000 loss — between stolen money and camera costs — which could include cutting pizza parties for the after-school participants and not having the annual Christmas Party. Grasing added they might have to cut staff, too.

“Especially around the holidays, it’s supposed to be very festive,” Keller said. “Instead it’s like doom and gloom here, and it’s never like that.”