Tuesday, April 26, 2005

83-year-old patient charged for taking extra newspapers from box

By Harold Gwin, The Valley Voice

On his way to the hospital for cancer treatment March 16, Andy Fusco stopped at a Mahoning Avenue newspaper box to buy a copy of The Vindicator.

Fusco, who is 83-years old with failing hearing and sight, says he intended to take only a single copy of the 35-cent newspaper.

But The Vindicator claims Fusco actually took four newspapers and filed theft charges against the retired trucker. The charges carry a maximum fine of $1,000 and six months in jail.

Fusco, of Winchester Avenue, pleaded innocent of the charge before Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly.

The retired trucker said the March 16 Vindicator edition was very thin and he didn’t realize he had taken more than a single copy from the box in front of the Brite & White Laundromat at 3212 Mahoning Ave.

He said it turned out that he had taken three papers after putting his money into the machine, not four as The Vindicator complaint against him claims.

“It was an honest mistake,” said Fusco’s younger brother, Frank, who accompanied him to court.

Whoever filed the charges against him “should be ashamed of themselves,” Frank Fusco said.

The police complaint against Fusco was signed by Amy Grant, transportation and single copy manager for The Vindicator. She was contacted about the alleged theft by Chris Thompson, a Brite & White employee, who collected a $200 reward.

Chris Thompson, who has worked at the laundry for eight years, said she first noticed Fusco appeared to be taking more than a single newspaper copy from the box right outside her office window about eight months ago.

She said she saw him stop and take papers from the box nearly every day she worked. Thompson said she finally decided to intervene because the laundry customers like to read the newspaper while doing their laundry and the box sold out too quickly.

She said she even took pictures of Fusco taking papers on more than one occasion.

Thompson said she alerted a Vindicator deliveryman and The Vindicator sent someone out to stake out the box and catch Fusco.

Fusco said a man from The Vindicator apparently followed him from the Mahoning Avenue Laundry to a store on Meridian Road where he stopped to buy two Cleveland Plain Dealers to take with him to the hospital.

The man demanded the newspapers and, not fully comprehending what the man wanted, Fusco said he tried to give him all of the papers he had, including the Plain Dealers.

The Vindicator filed a criminal complaint against Fusco the next day.

Frank Fusco said his older brother wasn’t trying to steal anything.

“He’s on borrowed time,” Frank Fusco said, explaining that his older brother is dying of cancer and lives on $700 a month in Social Security benefits.

Thompson said she didn’t know that she would be eligible for a reward from The Vindicator when she reported Fusco for theft.

“I do feel bad, because of his age and everything,” Thompson said.

Still, she wondered, what does it teach children if an older person gets away with theft?

Frank Fusco denied her allegation of repeated thefts by his brother.

“That isn’t true,” he said. “I know my brother. He’s not that type of guy.”

Calls to the city prosecutor’s office seeking comment on the case were not returned by press time.

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