The pastor of a Long Island church is crediting divine intervention after a chance encounter led to the arrests of three men accused of stealing about $3,000 worth of audio equipment from her church.
The alleged thieves were taken into custody Wednesday after trying to sell the amplifiers, keyboards, speakers and microphones at a Sam Ash store in Carle Place at the very moment church officials were in the store looking to replace the stolen items.
"Pastor looked at the equipment twice, then she looked again and then she said, 'That's our equipment,'" said Leon Cunningham, a church elder at the New Jerusalem Church in Uniondale.
When the church's pastor, Rev. Ada Jones, made her suspicions known to store employees, workers ushered the church group into a back room and called police as other employees stalled the three suspects.
"We weren't nervous but we were actually excited to catch these guys," said store employee Sal Mastro. "They were asking about money and 'how much can I get for this,' trying to negotiate. By the time we were finished talking about numbers, the police were here."
Store surveillance video captured police first talking to the suspects, then slapping handcuffs on them.
Authorities say Duane Smith, 23, of Uniondale, and Triston Thomas, 25, of Elmont, have been charged with burglary and criminal possession of stolen property. Richard Norris, 23, of Freeport, has been charged with criminal possession of stolen property. The three suspects have all pleaded not guilty.
"This is ridiculous. It's like the gang that couldn't shoot straight," said Sam Ash general manager Danil Dreger.
According to Jones, the suspects broke in through a back door of the small church. Now, the equipment is back at the church and ready to be used during Sunday services.
The happy ending, Jones said, was no coincidence.
"We know God had to intervene into that. We knew he was on our side," she said.