Judith Satosky doesn’t know Jorge Ventura too well, but the neighbors have crossed paths a few times when she was parking her car in the garage of their West 235th Street building.
“He just seemed to be a very friendly person,” Satosky said. “I had no idea he was a criminal.”
Police, however, believe he is, charging the 49-year-old with a string of a half-dozen robberies that have assailed both Riverdale and Kingsbridge over the past few weeks.
Those robberies include the Burger King at 6007 Broadway and the Kidville on West 235th in mid-May, a Subway restaurant on Johnson Avenue over Memorial Day weekend, and then three robberies in a single day — Dunkin’ Donuts on West 231st Street, and both DJ Drugs & Surgical and Park Terrace Unisex Salon on Riverdale Avenue, on June 7.
It was after that one-day spree last week cops were able to finally catch the man they were looking for, charging Ventura with robbery and displaying a firearm in all six heists.
The tactics were eerily similar in each robbery, police said. A man walked in, claimed to have a weapon he never showed, and made off with varying sums of cash — from less than $100 from the pharmacy, to nearly $1,500 at Subway.
“I feel a sense of relief” since the arrest, said Satosky, a mother of two, who’s lived in the red-brick building on the quiet tree-lined street for the last 20 years. “I didn’t know he was a shady person. We had a very nice conversation. He told me he was a family man. He told me he was busy with work.”
The news cops nabbed her neighbor caught Satosky by surprise.
“I said, ‘What?’ I was totally thrown,” Satosky said. “Why go to that extent? We all need to work hard for our money. Sometimes we live on the edge. I live on the edge, but I work hard. Why couldn’t he just get a loan from a bank? Ask a friend?”
Ventura had been staying in his mother’s apartment in the building for a few months, according to Victor Palacios, the building’s superintendent. He didn’t strike Palacios as the type to go off on a crime spree right in his own backyard.
“Normal person,” Palacios said. “Very quiet, very friendly.”
Adi Rosenfeld, owner of the Riverdale Kidville up the street from where Ventura lived, also felt a sense of relief knowing someone has been arrested.
“Obviously, we feel more comfortable and more safe. It was a little scary,” Rosenfeld said. “You could tell that the person really just needed the money. When he came here, at least, he had no idea that this is a children’s place. He just wanted to get cash and leave.”
Since the robbery, she’s upped security at Kidville, primarily by installing a buzzer system for the door.
“In general, it is a safe community,” Rosenfeld said. “It was nice to hear the police were really taking it seriously,” adding she and most of her employees live in the neighborhood.
“They were pretty shaken up,” Rosenfeld said. Still, the day after the robbery, “we opened as usual. It was a regular business day.”
It’s still not totally clear what may have driven Ventura to allegedly target businesses so close to home.
“Maybe it was a cry for help,” said Terence O’Toole, who commands the 50th Precinct. “We staked out his parole address, but he had apparently moved and never reported it. But we followed numerous people who fit the description” during a weeks-long investigation involving extra patrol and plain-clothes cops.
“Sometimes it’s very hard to find people,” O’Toole said, adding security camera footage from outdated systems doesn’t help. “I urge people to upgrade their video systems when they can. We’ve been putting up cameras all over the neighborhood, and Riverdale Avenue and Johnson Avenue are certainly on our list.”
Ventura was on parole from Albany, O’Toole said, although he actually grew up in the neighborhood where some of these crimes were committed. He was arrested several times in the 1980s and 1990s, something that continued when he later moved to Albany.
Ventura did prison time, O’Toole said, but was on parole for at least one robbery committed upstate.
“He still owes two years to the state,” O’Toole said. “He’s on Rikers Island on $100,000 bail, and the investigation is continuing. The DA’s office is working on it.”
If Ventura is convicted of the robberies, it will negate what O’Toole says had been a positive turn-around in his life.
“Recently, when he got out of jail, he had a job,” the deputy inspector said. “He looked like he was getting his life back on track. I believe he lost his job and went back to using crack.”
Police did get a lot of help from the community to find Ventura, O’Toole said.
“People said, ‘Yeah, that guy looks familiar. I know I’ve seen him around,’” O’Toole said, or, “‘He buys his cigarettes from 238th and Broadway.’
“It’s an oddity in our neighborhood,” O’Toole added.
In fact, robbery is down more than 20 percent from last year, according to NYPD statistics for the 50th Precinct as of the beginning of June, with crime overall down more than 15 percent.
“We get an occasional robbery. But … to do three robberies in a day, the last robbery 75 feet from his front door — that’s kind of crazy,” O’Toole said.
The robberies have renewed some resident calls over a lack of police presence, but O’Toole claims that’s not the case.
“We have sufficient police for what is normal for us,” O’Toole said. “Sometimes we need more police, and we bring them in” from other precincts. “It’s the way police departments work all over the country.”
In fact, the 50th brought in 12 ex-officers from the Bronx while looking for Ventura, he added.
“I’d love to be able to put a cop on every corner,” O’Toole said. “But we can’t. We rely on the community to talk to us, to give us information, and they did in this case.”
Satosky said she hopes Ventura “learned his lesson.” She certainly learned hers.
“I’m glad it’s over and I’m glad he’s gone,” Satosky said. “This is a wonderful neighborhood. I feel it’s brought me a lot of good luck.
“Knowing that someone in my building wasn’t safe, now I’m going to be really cautious who I speak to. This could happen in any apartment building.”