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March 4, 2005

Man accused of stealing from other deaf people

From: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle - Rochester,NY,USA - Mar 4, 2005

Nancy Dooling Press & Sun-Bulletin

(March 4, 2005) — BINGHAMTON — A deaf man, accused of preying on the deaf community by stealing to get painkillers, is being held in a California jail while Tioga County officials decide whether to bring him back to face charges.

Robert Lee Berry, 51, is "like the John Dillinger of the hearing-impaired community," said Sheriff's Investigator Lenny Jackson.

District Attorney Gerald Keene must decide whether to spend $3,000 in Tioga County funds to extradite Berry on low-level felony charges to Owego from California, he said.

Berry lived with a deaf Owego man, Scott Westcott, for seven months and used the man's personal checks to get money, Jackson said. The investigator filed a warrant against Berry on two felony counts of criminal possession of a forged instrument, but Berry fled in January.

Police found empty containers of prescription painkillers in the Owego house, including a highly addictive narcotic cough syrup containing morphine.

Jackson has asked state agencies to track down Berry's prescriptions and doctor visits while he lived in Owego.

Berry was picked up recently in California, where he was living with a deaf woman, and is being held on the Tioga County warrants. A conviction on the charge could carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison.

Two other warrants against Berry alleging credit card theft and writing bad checks from Chemung and Monroe counties are pending.

Berry's alleged misdeeds have been chronicled in Internet chat rooms used by the nation's deaf community.

Brenda Palmigiano met Berry in Binghamton last April when she taught a defensive driving course, she said. During a visit to her Rochester home weeks later, he is accused of taking her credit card and painkillers prescribed for her to ease the pain of recent hand surgery.

Berry used her credit card to purchase prescriptions for himself, she said.

Palmigiano, who has a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from the Rochester Institute of Technology, filed charges, but Berry had fled.

"It is so difficult to catch him when he stays at friends' houses for a little while and moves into another state," she said in an e-mail. "It is harder for us to trace him where he lives."

Palmigiano was contacted recently by a friend in California, who described Berry. Palmigiano, who had helped Westcott file charges against Berry in Owego, told the friend to call Jackson.

"Too many victims were afraid to have him arrested because he can go after them and terrorize them," Palmigiano said.

Berry preys on families who are hearing-impaired, Jackson said. He is addicted to narcotics and doctor-shops to get prescription drugs, the investigator said.

A Framingham, Mass., detective declined to comment on an investigation of Berry there. Charges are also pending in Colorado, Jackson said.

Copyright 2005 Rochester Democrat and Chronicle