Robber targets East Side stores

April 8, 2008 4:35:54 PM PDT
Nine robberies in four months, all on the East Side of Manhattan, all at retail stories and all involving a gun, or the threat of a gun. And according to police, they have all been committed by the same man. Now, they say they know what he looks like, thanks to a surveillance picture.

Eyewitness News reporter Jeff Rossen has more.

This robber is either really brave or really stupid, probably a little bit of both. Police say he robbed a tanning salon and then a few hours later, even as police were still no the scene of the first robbery, he hit a shoe store just a few feet away.

Things got really dicey at a candy store. The armed bandit walked in and bought a pack of gum before demanding cash.

The store owner, Nima Eshghi, got a good look at the robber and the weapon.

Rossen: "He put the gun right to your chest?"
Eshghi: "Right here, close to me. I said, I looked at the gun, 'You're not going to shoot me with that, are you?' He goes, 'What?' I said, 'Let me see the gun again.' Then he put it back in his pocket. So when he put it back, I hit him."

The robber fell to the ground, but Eshghi wasn't done with him yet.

Eshghi: "I grabbed him, and I just kept pushing him out. And I hit him against the door. The door opened up. He fell down, and I jumped on top of him."
Rossen: "Outside, you were on top of him on the sidewalk. Punching him?"
Eshghi: "Actually, I punched him once and had his head against the asphalt."

At that moment, the string of robberies could have been over. The man who has struck nine different stores since December could have been caught. But people on the street weren't paying attention.

Eshghi: "I said, 'Somebody call 911, 911.' And everyone was looking at me."
Rossen: "No one called police?"
Eshghi: "Nothing, man. Nothing."

The suspect got away, free to strike again. And strike again he did. Police have no leads except for the surveillance photo. When he hit an upscale shoe store, the workers were scared for their lives. After all, he almost always flashes a gun.

Store employee Stephanie Fanfan: "He put it in his chest and said, 'Give me the money or everybody will be in trouble."
Rossen: "And the barrel of the gun was right against your co-worker?"
Fanfan: "Right up against the co-worker, so we had to give him the cash for everybody's safety."

"I want him to get what he deserves," Eshghi said. "Because it's unfortunate. People work hard and this guy comes in just for a couple hundred bucks."

There appears to be no rhyme or reason as to what stores this guy hits. And that's why all these business owners are on alert.