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Chinatown’s Serial Pickpocket Sees Herself as “Robin Hood”

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Prosecutors say a well-off woman from Florida – a frequent visitor to New York’s Chinatown – is a prolific pickpocket. 67-year old Ha Vasko is now being held at Rikers Island on $124,500 bail. According to the New York Times, the cases date back to June of last year, when Vasko was arrested for stealing $500 from a woman’s bag at the corner of Canal and Mulberry Streets:

That arrest, the authorities said, led to a cycle in which Ms. Vasko would return to New York for court dates in Lower Manhattan and then head to Chinatown to lift cash and wallets. Prosecutors said in court on Tuesday that Ms. Vasko, who was born in Vietnam, told the police that she did not like Chinese people. By the time of her last arrest on March 21, Ms. Vasko, who was living in Melbourne, Fla., had been charged with three felonies and two misdemeanors, including “jostling,” which is legal jargon for trying to pick someone’s pocket or handbag. Prosecutors said all her victims were Chinatown residents.

Prosecutors have detailed several other incidents:

…on a return trip to New York for a court date in December, they said, Ms. Vasko walked to Chinatown and plucked $50 from a woman’s purse at the Bowery and Grand Street, before moving on to Hester Street, where she lifted a wallet containing eight credit cards. A police officer spotted Ms. Vasko and arrested her, at which point she tried to bribe the officer with cash, prosecutors said. According to the authorities, Ms. Vasko struck at least two times after that. In January, she was arrested and charged with jostling three women on East Broadway and trying to dip into their handbags. Then in March, she was arrested at the corner of Forsyth and Division Streets after prosecutors said she reached into the purses or pockets of at least four people and stole $350 from them.

More from DNA Info:

“I take money and give it to people who need it,” Vasko, who claims to be a Robin Hood of sorts, said, according to prosecutors. “I used to own a restaurant. I don’t need the money that I take. I give it all away.” Her lawyer, Richard Wojszwilo, also said she has a long history of mental illness and depression, which has worsened since her 103-year-old mother was admitted to a Florida nursing home. Wojszwilo requested her case be referred to the Mental Health Court, but prosecutors argued against it, claiming a two-page report from a psychiatric professional was not persuasive proof she could be helped. “She has been seeing the psychiatrist for 20 years and it is not working,” Assistant District Attorney Rachana Pathak said Tuesday.

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