Alleged church thief caught on video, freed by judge

February 15, 2019 07:34 PM

COLONIE - You would think that when a person is caught red-handed on surveillance tape robbing a church, admits to police he did it and is arrested while holding some of the $1,600 allegedly stolen from the church, the case would result in a slam dunk conviction. However, that's not what happened this week when that scenario played out at the Victory Christian Church in Colonie.

"We put in the video to stop crime," said Pastor Charlie Muller, the longtime spiritual leader at Victory Christian Church. "We put in the system to keep our parishioners safe."

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When Colonie Police officer John Bushey responded to the church on Monday, he watched the church surveillance video that showed an elderly man enter the church, climb the stairs to the second floor, enter an unlocked church office and then emerge moments later carrying, what police alleged, was $1,600 in stolen cash. Police say Robert Hoag, 74, admitted to them that he's the man in the video. According to police, Hoag was also carrying some of the money allegedly stolen from the church.

At a preliminary hearing this week, the Albany County District Attorney's Office "presented evidence that the defendant matched the description of the perpetrator, was found in possession of stolen property and made admissions regarding the event."

The DA's office, however, did not present the surveillance video to Colonie Town Justice Peter Crummey, who ruled the prosecution failed to show "reasonable cause to believe" Hoag committed the crime and therefore failed to meet their burden. Crummey dismissed all charges.

Pastor Muller says he's disappointed the judge never got to see surveillance video.

"Desperate people do desperate acts," Muller stated. "To allow him to get away, that would be horrible."

However, it would appear the case isn't over yet. In a statement released Friday by the Office of District Attorney David Soares, there is mention that, "The People are not precluded from continuing prosecution of this case at the felony level."

It would appear that the case is headed to a county grand jury.

"We thought this was an outstanding job by our officer," said Colonie Police Lieutenant Robert Winn, "We still stand by that. We believe this case will ultimately hold up.

Winn says Hoag is a four-time convicted felon, whose rap sheet began in the 1970s. He says Hoag did four stretches in state prison and has been connected to several other area church thefts in recent years.

"What if someone walked in the office when he was in the office?" Muller asks rhetorically, "Desperate people do desperate acts. We look at the whole picture of violence, people getting shot in churches, all that, and that's why we kind of thought we had to put a surveillance system in place."

Muller says if Hoag came to him and asked for help, he would have given him money, but he's also aware of Hoag's long criminal history.

"If he hasn't gotten the message yet, if he does the crime, he needs to do the time until he learns," Muller said.


Dan Levy

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