WOONSOCKET â€“ Acting on a tip, police arrested two city men Thursday in connection with the theft of brass hand rails from the steps of the landmark St. Charles Barromeo Church.
Robert C. Ceraolo, 55, of 340 Robinson St., and Timothy Ring, 36, of 157 Fairfield Ave., are charged with one count each of felony larceny and conspiracy.
The Rev. Gerald Finnegan, the church pastor, reported the theft of some 60 feet of brass hand rails last Saturday morning, saying he thought the fixtures had been stolen the night before. But police reports say the men were seen redeeming the rails for cash at a local scrap metals dealership days earlier. An eyewitness to the transaction told police the deal seemed so suspicious that he recorded the license plate of Ceraoloâ€™s car, providing the critical bit of info that ended up cracking the case.
Police issued a statement saying the railings were scrapped at L&R Scrap Metal at 631 River St. and â€ścannot be recovered.â€ť A police report says the owners of the business did not recall the transaction and were unable to supply any paperwork indicating the alleged deal ever took place.
A spokesman for the business declined comment, and police wouldnâ€™t say whether L&R is suspected of any wrongdoing.
â€śFather Finnegan is pleased that weâ€™ve arrested the individuals responsible for this crime, but the sad part is the church isnâ€™t going to get these railings back,â€ť said Police Chief Thomas Carey. â€śItâ€™s really hard to put any kind of replacement value on something like this. Theyâ€™re probably not replaceable. Theyâ€™ve been there over a hundred years.â€ť
The majestic, granite-block church was Woonsocketâ€™s first Roman Catholic house of worship, built in 1868. The railings were among the original fixtures of the church, a commanding presence at the corner of North Main and Daniels streets.
According to police reports, an individual saw two men in a red Nissan Sentra turning in brass rails at the scrap dealership on Feb. 11. The witness thought the rails seemed too ornate for scrap and recorded the registration plate on the car, eventually leading police to Ceraoloâ€™s apartment, where he was arrested Thursday afternoon.
â€śThis is about Timmy, right?â€ť Ceraolo said when he opened the door.
Ceraolo allegedly told police he has provided Ring with transportation on several occasions to sell materials he suspected were stolen, but he went along anyway.
â€śOn or aroundâ€ť Feb. 9, Ceraolo told police, Ring called him and asked him to meet him in the parking lot of St. Charles Church. Ring had already removed the hand rails from the granite steps of the church by the time he arrived. The rails had been fastened to the steps by nuts and bolts, which Ring somehow loosened without anyone seeing him.
Ceraolo told police Ring paid him $40 for giving him a ride to the scrap dealer. The rails were so unwieldy they were able to fit them into the Sentra only by putting down the seats.
They drove directly to the scrap dealer, but when they arrived the business was closed, so they unloaded the rails, stashed them on the side of the building and returned the next morning to cash them in. The witness who contacted the police not only obtained Ceraoloâ€™s license plate, he also attempted to question Ceraolo and his companion about the origin of the materials, but they wouldnâ€™t talk to him.
Itâ€™s still unknown how much Ring was paid for the fixtures, but brass is selling for $1 to $2 a pound on the scrap market.
Carey said police tentatively estimate the replacement value of the rails at $10,000, but he has asked Rev. Finnegan to see if he can provide a more accurate figure.
Carey said Ring has been arrested before for trafficking in stolen metals. Heâ€™s got a lengthy criminal record including three open cases with the Woonsocket and North Smithfield police for breaking and entering and other charges, according to the judiciaryâ€™s web site.
The chief also praised Gormleyâ€™s efforts in piecing together the theft, saying it wasnâ€™t the first stolen-metals case heâ€™s been instrumental in solving. Gormley was the lead investigator in the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollarsâ€™ worth of air conditioning units from the Broaster House Restaurant and the roof of Walmart last spring. Larry Bates Sr., Jess Marinaro, both of Johnston, Matthew Bruckschen, 27, and Nathan Plante, 23, both of Woonsocket, were arrested in connection with those thefts.
â€śYou have to hand it to him on these metals cases,â€ť the chief said. â€śHeâ€™s been dogged and determined. Heâ€™s on it.â€ť