Samuel Sabatino is the oldest home burglar that anyone in New York law enforcement can recall.
Now 82, the “Holiday Bandit” was captured on Aug. 31 after eluding police for some five years. The nickname, given to him by investigators, comes from his penchant for allegedly breaking into Upper East Side apartments while residents were away for Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. He is suspected of stealing some $400,000 worth of high-end watches, jewels and rings.
So how did he do it? Simply by looking like an unassuming old guy on the Upper East Side — 5-foot-9, 195 pounds, gray hair and blue eyes. Like any other Florida snowbird, he drove up from the Sunshine State to New York before Memorial Day weekend.
Doormen and tenants didn’t even notice when Sabatino scooted through the lobby.
In fact, a doorman at 201 E. 79th St., a co-op hit by Sabatino, told The Post: “Between his age and the fact that he was an older white guy . . . you wouldn’t expect it.”
As Sabatino cools his heels — held on $250,000 bail, having turned down a 20-year plea deal — downtown in the Manhattan Detention Complex, a resident from 201 E. 79th St. sees irony in the senior citizen’s alleged crimes.
“He’s a Caucasian person and he managed to sneak into buildings full of privileged white people,” Ash Woo, 36, told The Post. “Yet when my friends of color visit, they sometimes get interrogated.”
Building management did not respond to requests for comment.
According to a source, Sabatino would “walk in alongside tenants, conversing with them, and he made it seem completely natural. The tenants had no idea that they walked this guy into the building.”
Once inside, police say, he roamed the halls in search of signs — newspapers or packages in the hallway — that residents were on vacation. Then he would walk into apartments where, incredibly, doors were left unlocked.
On the rare occasion he raised suspicions, Sabatino is said to have used his age to his advantage. When a neighbor caught him trying to enter an apartment, the old man allegedly feigned befuddlement and wandered away.
Sabatino’s rap sheet dates back to at least 1977, when he was charged with attempted robbery in The Bronx. Back then, he lived with his wife and children in Westchester County — but apparently kept his livelihood a secret.
“There were people on the block who worked for Pan Am and IBM,” said one of his former neighbors. “[Sabatino’s] occupation was unclear.”
That said, there were some abnormalities. “In the late 1970s, a Secret Service-[looking] guy parked on the block and watched the Sabatino home,” said the former neighbor. “My mother asked the guy in the car what he was doing. He said, ‘Treasury Department.’ Then he flashed a badge. There were always rumors.”
In 1992, Florida’s Southern District Court convicted Sabatino of helping to transport stolen goods.
Summer hit list of the old-man robber
A couple of years later, Sabatino disappeared. Added the former neighbor: “I inferred that he had died.” In fact, he was serving time for a break-in gone bad.
After another burglary arrest in New York, Sabatino jumped bail and went on the lam in 2001. He began living under the name James Clement and online records show that he spent time in Miami.
It’s unclear why he returned to New York for his latest burglaries. But police say he drove up in his Lexus and paid tolls in cash so as not to leave a paper trail. In May of this year, he allegedly robbed two apartments at 201 E. 79th St., walking out with $100,000 in diamond rings, watches and other jewelry. Over the July Fourth weekend he looted jewels from 215 E. 68th St.
His summer spree came to an end at 1623 Third Ave. when a doorman asked Sabatino who he was there to see. He claimed to be visiting “Suarez” in 16F. Informed that no one by that name lived there, Sabatino muttered that he was in the wrong place and that he needed to go across the street.
But he never made it.
Police, who believe he is linked to other UES burglaries dating back as many as five years ago, were already on his trail. A tracking device had been attached to his Lexus in Florida. The NYPD took him into custody outside the building and he was later arrested.
Sabatino, who rejected a jailhouse visit by The Post, will next appear in court Nov. 20.
“You’d think that somebody who does bad things would be nasty. But he was the opposite,” the former neighbor said. “He was the charming burglar.”
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