LPD: Suspect nabbed in church thefts

LYNDHURST –

The thief who police say allegedly pocketed the contents of the poor boxes at a Lyndhurst house of worship is now in custody.

Police identified the suspect as Michael R. Gardi, 34, of East Rutherford.

Gardi is charged with burglary, theft, criminal mischief, eluding, possession of seven hypodermic needles and drug paraphernalia.

Lyndhurst police were called to St. Michael’s Church, 504 Ridge Road, on Jan. 31 to investigate a report of a burglary.

The property manager told officers that sometime between Jan. 30 and 31, a total of five donation boxes in various locations throughout the church had been forced open and emptied of an undetermined amount of cash.

Police said the Bergen County Sheriff’s Office’s Bureau of Criminal Identification unit processed the location while Det. Ronald Guirland analyzed surveillance video from within the church.

On the surveillance, according to police, were images of a then-unknown suspect shown entering the church lobby at 11:50 a.m., Monday, Jan. 30, “at which time it is believed he went to the second-level choir balcony where he remained for over three hours until appearing again on video forcing entry through the locked interior doors from the vestibule into the church.

“He remained inside the church for approximately 20 minutes during which time he forced open the five donation boxes.”

On Wednesday, Feb. 1, police said Guirland and Lt. John Fata were traveling east on Grant Ave. when Guirland observed an individual who appeared to match the suspect’s description bicycling westbound on Grant.

Police said the officers immediately turned around in pursuit of the individual and located the bicycle parked in front of a Rite-Aid pharmacy on the 400 block of Valley Brook Road.

The officers went inside, where they spotted the suspect who, after seeing the officers, reportedly fled on foot out an emergency exit, police said.

After a brief pursuit through the shopping plaza, the officers subdued the suspect inside the Game-Stop store as he was trying to get to another emergency exit, police said.

After Gardi was booked, he was taken to the Bergen County Jail where he was ordered held without bail pending court action. 

– Ron Leir

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.