by Larry Austin
Erie County Sheriff Tim Howard has announced the arrest and arraignment of a Grand Island man who detectives say terrorized an elderly Grand Island woman on East River Road.
According to the sheriff's office, the subject, 30-year-old Justin W. Slaiman of Baseline Road, allegedly stole sentimental and valuable items from the victim's home and property "repeatedly and methodically" for a several weeks in August. He then took the stolen items to local pawn shops, the sheriff's office said.
"We believe that he was there numerous times. He kept returning," said Capt. Gregory Savage of the Erie County Sheriff's Office. Savage added that the victim is an elderly former antique dealer who had an old barn filled with collectibles.
"He would go to the house, he would go to the barn. We think he probably broke in there at least half a dozen times, including one time he put a ladder up against the side of the house and he was cutting the screen when the homeowner came right to the window and literally was face to face with him," Savage said. "He smiled at her, and he took off running."
"He's just a very brazen guy. It didn't even seem to faze him that the homeowner was in there at the time he was trying to get in the house."
Erie County Sheriff's deputies arrived and found burglary tools at the scene. Slaiman was later identified through DNA evidence.
Slaiman was arrested in connection with this case on Sept. 28 by detectives and charged with felony burglary/illegal entry with criminal intent; felony attempted burglary/armed with a deadly weapon; felony grand larceny/value of property greater than $1,000; felony criminal mischief in the third degree/damage to another's property; felony burglary with intent to commit a crime; misdemeanor criminal possession of stolen property in the fifth degree; and another misdemeanor for possession of burglar tools.
The weapon was a knife with a 12-inch blade Slaiman allegedly used to cut the screen. "So had he made entry into the house, and confronted her, who knows what could have happened," Savage said. "It could have turned into something a lot more serious than just a burglary."
"That's how homicides happen sometimes. You get caught in the house, you panic," Savage said.
Slaiman pleaded not guilty at his arraignment over the weekend. He also remains a prime suspect in several other burglary cases on Grand Island since March. More charges are pending.
"He has quite an arrest history," Savage said, noting Slaiman has been arrested "just about every year," with a criminal recored dating to 2006. He has been arrested six times for criminal possession of a controlled substance.
Slaiman is making burglary in particular a career and "just doesn't want to go out and get a job," Savage said.
"That's how he makes his money, just by stealing."
According to the ECSO, some of the items Slaiman stole from the victim were pawned with some success, include military memorabilia; various types of scrap metal; and other sentimental artifacts.
"Our detectives recovered some of the property at a couple of different pawn shops," Savage said.
Savage said the arrest illustrates the need for a new law regarding pawn shops in Erie County. The law would regulate how pawn shops would handle property for sale.
Pawn shops "would have to document what they take in, they would have to maintain that property for a minimum of 10 to 14 days, just in case it does turn out to be stolen. They would have to get ID from people," Savage said.
Pawn shops are resistant, especially those who buy silver and gold, Savage said.
"They've got their little smelting pots running 24 hours a day," Savage said. "As soon as somebody brings it in, they're melting it down immediately because then if the police come looking for something they can say, 'Hey, I don't have it. It was melted down.'"
"These places are nothing but legalized fencing operations as far as I'm concerned, many of them, because they're knowingly taking in stolen property," Savage said, explaining that these shops are taking advantage of a loophole in the law.
"Really, you've got about 20 business people in Erie County that are getting rich off of this at the misery of a lot of other people," Savage said.