ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: The trial of the remaining members of the infamous Boone burglary gang took a startling turn yesterday when a key witness for prosecutors suddenly confessed that he’d been drinking for 10 hours — and not only a short time — before he was arrested along with five alleged crew members during an October 2012 raid on an Englewood garage he rented.
Investigators said Robert Hastu ( above, left ) told them he’d been drinking since late evening before a task force of officers from various jurisdictions burst into the garage as the crew was trying to crack open a 600-pound safe that had been stolen during a home burglary in Connecticut that night.
However, under questioning yesterday in Hackensack by Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor David Calviello, Hastu said he has since had an attack of conscience.
Although he told police he’d finished off only a pint of vodka, Hastu said, “it wasn’t the whole truth.
“I was drinking from noon until the police got there,” he said.
“Are you scared?” Calviello asked.
“Yes,” Hastu replied.
Calviello then noted that Hastu — having been more of an accessory than a crew member — was accepted into a special program that will allow him to clear his record if he stays out of trouble.
“Was there any condition required for you to get into [the program] that you had to cooperate?” the prosecutor asked him.
“No,” Hastu responded. “I had to testify to my statement.”
Attorneys for the three defendants — Jarrell Bordeaux, 27, Marc Rainey, 26, and Renando Sheffield, all of Englewood — zeroed in on Hastu’s chance of heart.
“You were still drunk at 4 in the morning, right? And [the investigators] started pumping you with coffee?” asked Suzanne Smith, who represents defendant Renando Sheffield.
“I only had one cup of coffee,” Hastu replied.
He later contended that his drinking didn’t affect his ability to recognize Sheffield, whom he knew from the building at 131 William Street where he rented a garage that he used for his upholstery business — and where Sheffield’s girlfriend lived.
He added that he knew Sheffield by the nicknames Nando and Nardo, as he was called.
Prosecutors said Sheffield made the deal with Hastu to use his garage as a place to open the safe.
Sheffield scuttled a plea deal last month when he refused to admit during the hearing that he’d committed a crime.
The surprise admission by Hastu came during a trial in Hackensack that otherwise has focused on the various steps involved in evidence collection, as defense attorneys tried to impeach the prosecution’s case.
Hastu said he’d been sleeping in the rented garage the previous four months “to save a rent.” He visited his mother in Teaneck to shower, he said, traveling there and back by bus.
He said he also bartered cleaning services with a local restaurant for free dinners.
The night of the Connecticut burglary, he was about to leave the garage for the restaurant, where he mopped floors nightly, when he heard a knock.
It was Sheffield, “wearing a red hoodie,” he said.
“He said he needed to use the garage for a little while and gave me $20. I took it because I had no money. Then I left for the restaurant.”
When he returned later that night, Hastu testified, the crew members were still inside.
“I sat on a bench behind the garage and smoked a cigarette,” he said.
At one point he knocked on the door, Hastu said, and someone opened it “about two feet.”
“They said they needed it a while longer, so I went back and waited,” he said.
Hastu also heard banging that sounded like “iron hitting iron.”
He said he was still sitting on the bench when police arrived, arresting him and most of those inside.
Sheffield wasn’t there at the time of the raid but was later arrested and charged as an accomplice, along with Jamelle Singletary.
Caught at the scene with the others was Akeem “Light” Boone.
Boone and Singletary have pleaded guilty, in exchange of prison terms of four years for Boone and one for Singletary.
Bordeaux and Rainey remain held on $500,000 bail in the Bergen County Jail.
Sheffield, meanwhile, is free on bail — but also has a trial coming up in another case involving a November 2011 burglary in Old Tappan.
Hastu returns to the stand today.
Calviello said he plans to show Hastu’s videotaped confession the night of the arrests, in response to his comments today about his drinking.
MORE TO THIS STORY:
Plea deal falls through, ‘Bond gang’ members going to trial
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia (CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter)
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