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Cops: Pa. Man Faking Fire Marshal Connections Charged with Extorting Businesses

A report by a Stamford business to the Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection in July led authorities to arrest a man who had allegedly threatened a half-dozen businesses around the city while pretending to be associated with the Fire Marshal's office.

According to Sgt. Peter diSpagna, a report came in to the Fire Marshal's office from Consumer Protection about a pushy "salesman" who arrived at Commuter Cleaners at 141 Cove Road, stating he would be conducting fire suppressant inspections in connection with the Marshal's office.

Marshals Tony Forte and Ted Panagiotopoulos began looking into who the man was claiming to be associated with the office, and brought in the Stamford Police Investigators John Russell and Michael Stempien to assist with the investigation. During the course of their investigation, diSpagna said authorities identified Nelson Granillo, 51, of 472 Penn Estates in Stroudsburg, PA, as the suspect in question.

Granillo would enter businesses and intimate that he was an associate of the Stamford Fire Marshal's Office, informing business owners failure to comply with his inspection and instructions for remedying any found issues would result in him filing a report with the Fire Marshal's Office that would bring about fines and possible business closure, diSpagna said.

Authorities were able to identify six businesses Granillo entered and charged or attempted to charge money for inspections and suppression upgrades and work while threatening to fine and shut them down if they refused to comply. Those businesses, in addition to Commuter Cleaners, were:
  • Cove Road Groceries at 148 Cove Road
  • La Fabulosa Grocery at 698 Pacific Street
  • Rosanny MiniMart at 138 Cove Road
  • Moran Deli at 703 Pacific Street
  • Old House Restaurant at 67 Selleck Street
According to diSpagna, making a threat to receive money from a victim is extortion, which is automatic first-degree felony, regardless of the amount being demanded. He said Granillo was attempting to charge victims between $100 to $200 for the initial inspection, then additional monies for costs associated with that, like maintenance or replacement of equipment.

A majority of owners for these businesses were Hispanic, whom diSpagna said would often comply without much hesitation because the threat of business closure creates a panic as it would be too great a financial strain on businesses where daily operations are required just to make a living. He said a similar scam was run six years ago by a group out of Long Island that also preyed on Hispanic business owners a majority of the time using similar tactics.

The business owner at Commuter Cleaners didn't like the way he was being spoken to, diSpagna said, and challenged Granillo on whether he was actually connected to the Fire Marshal's Office as he wasn't carrying any business cards or wearing a uniform.

Granillo did, however, use his real name when dealing with the businesses, diSpagna said, and he was picked up by authorities while in Stamford Court Tuesday to appear for an unrelated case.

He was charged with three counts of criminal impersonation, two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny and four counts of first-degree larceny. He posted a $15,000 bond following his arrest.

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