By John Donegan
This story originally appeared in the 7/23/21 edition of the Westmore News. For the original article, follow the link.
At his second hearing in Rye Town Court on July 14, Rye Brook defendant Charles Porten pled guilty to two counts of criminal mischief, ending a strange saga involving keyed cars and the police sting that connected him to them.
The court, under the guide of Judge John Colangelo, reduced the two counts to disorderly conduct, a violation, which Porten, 86, accepted.
Colangelo cited Porten’s mental and physical disabilities were a factor in the ruling. He ordered Porten to pay restitution totaling $2,900 within 30 days.
Porten’s time before the court came after a two-week investigation that concluded on June 23 with his arrest.
The elderly Pine Tree Drive resident was charged after a sting operation conducted by the Rye Brook Police Department obtained video evidence of him keying numerous cars, including an undercover police van.
All the incidents centered around a particular section of Doral Greens Drive West in Doral Greens, a neighborhood of high-end condominiums. It sits right by the Connecticut border, across the street from the Blind Brook Club and a stone’s throw away from Purchase College.
Reports of the keying sprang up in early June, according to Rye Brook Police Sergeant Terence Wilson. Detectives set up several dummy cars and an undercover van, which was equipped with a video camera surveilling the street. On June 23, at 3:23 p.m., footage captured Porten walking over and keying cars, including the undercover van.
“Once we get involved with an investigation, we take it seriously,” Wilson said. “We set up how we do business and how we intend to catch somebody if there is something like that going on up there. And we do that anywhere in the Village; if we have a problem with an area, we will spend the resources and we will put our guys out to investigate stuff, and in this particular case, we happened to get lucky.”
Porten was arrested for the damage of six vehicles, though Wilson originally expected to link Porten to several more cars. The damage to the undercover van alone was estimated at $870.
“They got involved after numerous activities had occurred,” Wilson said. “So when they got on and they did their bid, their investigation—I believe they had two or three, I’m not quite sure of the exact number, incidents that they could prove.”
According to Wilson, Porten keyed the cars out of anger because they blocked his path to the mail kiosk near the community clubhouse. The parking spots, according to some Doral Greens residents, are in a common parking area for the community swimming pool nearby.
Residents of Doral Greens and neighbors of Porten denied requests for comment. Many simply said they didn’t know much about the man. Little was known about Porten other than that he has lived in the community for only a year after buying the home from former Doral Greens Homeowners Association Vice President Bob Baldoni. When asked if they knew about the car keying or the subsequent sting, residents were largely unaware.
It is not known how many residents complained to the police about the car keying. Wilson believes there are more victims in the neighborhood that did not come forward or that they simply could not prove were connected to the case.
“We know the number is greater, but the incidents are either older or we can’t prove them, so we can’t include them in the charge,” Wilson said. “Then you have people that might have had damage and just got their car fixed and didn’t say anything. That happens a lot, too.”
When asked for comment about the lack of communication with residents via email or by phone, Doral Greens Homeowners Association President Robin Markell did not respond. She did, however, stop by the Westmore News offices on Tuesday, July 13, in frustration to express her strong disapproval of this reporter visiting Doral Greens to chat with residents about the case. While there, she claimed she was not allowed to tell the neighborhood about the car keying and police investigation, as she was told by the police to keep quiet.
When asked to verify Markell’s statement, Wilson said he could not confirm whether anyone at the department told her to keep silent.
“I can’t confirm or deny that,” Wilson said. “Whatever she’s saying, I would tend to believe her, but it didn’t come from me, and I run the bureau so a lot of the stuff should come through here.”
Markell admitted that, even after the investigation, she did not notify residents about the case.
Society is far removed from the age of neighbors borrowing a little sugar or starch. Communal alienation is a constant theme in sociology’s classic social theory, where philosophers have correlated modernization, especially in methods of communication, with increased alienation from those living closest to you. It’s a time where it’s faster to connect to someone in China than the family next door, and to go to the repair shop before the police when many crimes are in the midst.
“See, don’t forget, (with) a lot of people here in Rye Brook, things happen to their property and so on and they don’t even report it,” Wilson said. “You could have other people that have had instances like damages to their car where they just say, ‘oh, the heck with it,’ and then move on and get it fixed. And that’s it. It’s the people that do take the time to report it to the police—we can’t stop the behavior if we don’t know about it.”