Five people have been arrested on felony robbery-related charges for their alleged involvement in a home invasion that occurred on Newberry Street on Thursday night, city police said.
Peter Michael Bennett, 18, and Tyler David Ritter, 19, allegedly entered Patty Peluso's home at 2630 Newberry, with pillowcases covering their faces about 7:45 p.m., police said.
However, things began to go wrong right away for the bandits as the two men entered the kitchen through a back door, police said.
Although no weapon was seen, one of the masked men claimed to have a gun and threatened Peluso by telling her, as she walked into her kitchen, that he was "going to blow her head off," Officer Jeffrey Paulhamus said in an affidavit.
The man who made the threat began to push Peluso and "elbowed her in the face, nearly knocking her to the ground," Paulhamus said.
Peluso had enough and began to fight back. During a struggle, the woman managed to pull off the man's jacket, "exposing his face," Paulhamus said.
The victim recognized the attacker right away, allegedly as Bennett, someone she had "mentored," Paulhamus said. During the confrontation, Ritter, with his face still covered, walked out of the house and waited in a getaway car that was driven by Bennett's 17-year-old girlfriend, the officer said.
Even with his cover blown, Bennett ran into the living room, grabbed Peluso's purse, ran out the back door and fled in his girlfriend's vehicle, Paulhamus said.
Bennett, the mastermind who plotted the home invasion, was furious with Ritter, "accusing him of foiling the robbery," Paulhamus said.
Upon fleeing the scene, the teenage girl drove Ritter, of 723 Diamond St., Bennett and a third man, Daniel Luis Polanco, 18, of 1311 Dewey Ave., back to Bennett's home at 2405 W. Fourth St., where Bennett supposedly "planned out the robbery," Paulhamus said.
Earlier, Bennett had called Ritter, telling him "I got a job and we're going to rob somebody," Paulhamus said investigators were told.
Once the foursome arrived at Bennett's house after the robbery, Bennett "punched Ritter in the face and Ritter then fled on foot," Paulhamus said investigators were told.
Also living at the house is Bennett's 30-year-old aunt, Amy Lynn Artley. She "directed Bennett, his girlfriend and Polanco into the house and hid them in her upstairs bedroom. She concealed the stolen purse and its contents (about $140 and some prescription medication) in her closet," Paulhamus alleged in the affidavit.
With police hot on the trail, officers soon arrived at the house looking for the suspects. They told Artley they were pursuing individuals involved in a home invasion and they identified the suspects by name.
"She told the officers that Bennett and Ritter were not in her house and that they did not live there. She then told them that she would show them where Ritter lived and try to assist in the investigation. This was a lie," Paulhamus said.
"She was specifically trying to hinder police from apprehending the suspects," the officer said.
At one point, Bennett reported texted Ritter "You're taking the rap for this," meaning the robbery, Paulhamus said.
A little more than an hour after the robbery, and after making sure the coast was clear, Artley told the 17-year-old girl it "was safe to leave. Artley then hid Bennett in the basement," Paulhamus said.
Artley's deception continued Friday morning when she went to police headquarters and told investigators that "Bennett was hiding in Milton," Paulhamus said.
Hours later, police apprehended Bennett and Polanco at Polanco's home on Dewey Avenue.
Paulhamus alleges that Polanco's involvement in the home invasion was "to make contact with Peluso beforehand and case out the home to see if she was alone."
Minutes before Bennett and Ritter broke into the property, Polanco engaged in "small talk" with Peluso at her back door, Paulhamus said. The woman soon was seen talking on the telephone.
When Polanco saw this, he alerted Bennett and Ritter by telling them "Go, go, go. She's in the living room on the phone," Paulhamus said.
In addition to hiding three of the suspects in her house after the robbery, Artley played a role in planning the invasion, Paulhamus alleged.
Artley allegedly "made the pillowcase masks that Ritter and Bennett wore during the robbery," Paulhamus said.
"Bennett placed a pillowcase over his head. Artley marked where his eyes were by burning small holes with a cigarette. Artley then used a knife to cut eye holes in the pillowcase," Paulhamus said.
Bennett, Ritter, Polanco and Artley all face charges of robbery, burglary, felony trespassing, terroristic threats, simple assault and conspiracy. The three men have also been charged with theft and receiving stolen property while Artley faces two additional felony counts of hindering apprehension or prosecution.
Bennett Polanco and Artley were arraigned before District Judge Jon E. Kemp and committed to the Lycoming County Prison in lieu of $150,000 bail each. Ritter was arraigned before District Judge James Carn on Tuesday and released on $50,000 bail.
The 17-year-old girl who drove the getaway vehicle has been petitioned into juvenile court on similar charges, police said.