Police: Graffiti Suspect Admitted Painting Swastikas in Montauk and Made Antisemitic Statements to Investigators - 27 East

Police: Graffiti Suspect Admitted Painting Swastikas in Montauk and Made Antisemitic Statements to Investigators

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Michael Nicholoulias, 74, of East Hampton is led to his arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Tuesday afternoon.  KYRIL BROMLEY

Michael Nicholoulias, 74, of East Hampton is led to his arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Tuesday afternoon. KYRIL BROMLEY

Michael Nicholoulias, 74, of East Hampton is led to his arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Tuesday afternoon.  KYRIL BROMLEY

Michael Nicholoulias, 74, of East Hampton is led to his arraignment in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Tuesday afternoon. KYRIL BROMLEY

District Attorney Ray Tierney announces an arrest in the Montauk hate crime graffiti investigation.  MICHAEL WRIGHT

District Attorney Ray Tierney announces an arrest in the Montauk hate crime graffiti investigation. MICHAEL WRIGHT

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney announces an arrest in the Montauk hate crime graffiti investigation.  DANA SHAW

Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney announces an arrest in the Montauk hate crime graffiti investigation. DANA SHAW

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo at a press conference in Riverhead where District Attorney Ray Tierney, foreground, announces an arrest in the Montauk hate crime graffiti investigation.  DANA SHAW

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo at a press conference in Riverhead where District Attorney Ray Tierney, foreground, announces an arrest in the Montauk hate crime graffiti investigation. DANA SHAW

Graffiti from the October incident in Montauk.

Graffiti from the October incident in Montauk.

Graffiti from the October incident in Montauk.

Graffiti from the October incident in Montauk.

authorMichael Wright on Dec 5, 2023

East Hampton Town Police and county law enforcement had been following the 74-year-old suspect in two incidents of antisemitic vandalism around the clock for nearly a month, when two investigators from the Suffolk County district attorney’s office say they watched him paint a swastika on a Montauk park bench early Tuesday morning — and swooped in to arrest him.

Police had identified the man, Michael Nicholoulias of Montauk, as a suspect shortly after the first incident on October 30, thanks to security camera footage from multiple private homes and businesses that showed a white Dodge PT Cruiser with a distinctive roof rack and two window stickers in the vicinity of the two locations where swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti had been discovered, East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said on Tuesday.

A check of vehicle registrations revealed just one white PT Cruiser registered to a Montauk address — in Nicholoulias’s name.

After the second vandalism incident, overnight between November 10 and 11, more camera footage seemed to confirm the connection of the vehicle to the incident, and investigators from three agencies started tailing him around the clock, District Attorney Raymond Tierney said during a press conference announcing the charges against Nicholoulias, leading to Tuesday’s arrest.

“This case is an example of what we can do when we all work together. This investigation was a collaboration of my office, the Suffolk County Police Department as well as the East Hampton Town Police Department,” Tierney said in the Suffolk County courthouse in Riverside — with the can of black spray paint found in Nicholoulias’s hand just hours earlier sitting on a table in front of him and a platoon of other law enforcement officials around him.

“At the time it happened, I think we in law enforcement recognized the seriousness of the crime. When a certain element of the population is targeted and hateful messages are spread throughout a community, it attacks the fiber of that community and makes everyone uneasy.

“We know that everyone in East Hampton was anxious to see this case resolved,” he added.

Nicholoulias has admitted to police that he committed the October 29-30 and November 10-11 vandalism incidents, the district attorney said, adding that investigators have found no evidence that anyone else had been involved with him in the two earlier incidents.

Nicholoulias was arraigned on three felonies — two counts of aggravated harassment in the first degree, and one count of criminal mischief in the fourth degree as a hate crime — and 11 misdemeanor charges in East Hampton Town Justice Court on Tuesday afternoon before Justice Lisa Rana.

Wearing sweats and leather sandals, his head shaven, Nicholoulias gave only single-word responses in the courtroom to questions from Rana. He was represented by an attorney from the Legal Aid Society.

His attorney said that Nicholoulias is a retired special needs teacher who moved to Montauk from Hawaii about six years ago, but had lived in the hamlet previously.

He will be released without bail but with an order to wear a monitoring bracelet on his ankle and an order of protection against visiting or approaching two specific Montauk individuals, who were not identified by name in court.

Tierney said that Nicholoulias will be charged with felonies in Suffolk County Criminal Court soon as well, but that federal authorities are not expected to get involved in the case, since Nicholoulias had acted alone and had no affiliation to an organized hate group.

Since his arrest, the district attorney added, Nicholoulias had made statements to investigators critical of the U.S. support of the war between Israel and Hamas, and the war in Ukraine, and has made “derogatory statements with regard to the state of Israel.”

Early on the morning of October 30, East Hampton Town Police were alerted to numerous swastikas scrawled in black spray paint on the public bathroom building, two food trailers, and several street signs and utility boxes at Ditch Plains Beach and the surrounding neighborhood.

A short time later, the staff of Naturally Good, a downtown Montauk cafe, arrived to find the business’s rear fence and outdoor picnic tables tagged with black swastikas and violently antisemitic epithets, also in black spray paint.

Town Police said they immediately began working with investigators from the Suffolk County Police Department Hate Crime Unit to find the culprit, as members of the community organized a “Love Rally” to fight the sentiments of hatred and bigotry expressed by the vandal.

But just 11 days later, a new smear of graffiti was found, again in the early morning after an apparently late-night vandalism spree, this time on the exterior of Bounce Beach, an oceanfront bar that is boarded up for the winter. Again, swastikas and violent sentiments were left in several locations around the building by the vandal, in black spray paint.

Within hours, students from the Montauk School swooped in and painted over the hateful graffiti with bright colors and sentiments of love and acceptance.

Police put out an appeal for anyone with home or business security cameras in the vicinity to alert police in the hope that a glimpse of a potential perpetrator was captured, but had said nothing about the investigation in the time since.

Sarlo said on Tuesday that ferreting out Nicholoulias had been a triumph of savvy police work and cooperation.

“As you can imagine, 24-hour surveillance for almost a month would be very challenging for our agency with our staffing, so to have the county P.D. and the D.A.’s investigators involved with us was a tremendous help,” he said. “And our local detectives really did a phenomenal job working with our patrol division to generate the local intel that led to this arrest. Cooperation like this is instrumental in any of these kind of investigations.”

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