STATEN ISLAND – The man unmasked as the notorious "Ninja Burglar" copped a guilty plea Thursday inside Staten Island Court. Under the plea agreement, 46-year-old Robert Costanzo will be sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Prosecutors said he is linked to 160 burglaries on Staten Island alone. His crime spree starting in 2005 and lasting 10 years. Costanzo plead guilty to just three counts of second degree burglary. The statute of limitations has run out on many of the other cases.
One of the three counts involved the robbery of a home on Benedict Road in the Todt Hill neighborhood. The homeowner, who did not want to be identified, told PIX11, "We're just happy he's behind bars and we hope he stays there."
His ten year crime spree was widespread and crossed state lines. More than a hundred victims, many of them home at the time of the robberies. He hit homes in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Costanzo has a rap sheet dating back years. At the age of 19, he was convicted of raping a grandmother in the Tompkinsville section of Staten Island.
He was given the nickname "Ninja Burglar" because he wore all black. During a robbery of a Dongan Hills home, he used nunchucks to attack Phil Chiolo. Thursday afternoon, Chiolo's brother, Richard, remembers that night in 2007 when they encountered the burglar.
"It was a gentleman standing there all dressed in black," Chiolo said. "He started swinging nunchucks at him and there was a little battle with my brother and he was able to grab a steak knife."
The steak knife struck the robber, scaring him. He left without being able to steal anything from the Chiolo home. Richard Chiolo said he's not convinced Constanzo is the man who burglarized his family's home. The robber had a streak of targeting mansions in upscale Todt Hill neighborhoods.
"We don't know for sure the person they've arrested now is the one who robbed our house because it didn't really fit his MO," Chiolo said. "He was obviously hitting more expensive high-class homes."
"I'm happy regardless if it was him who hit our home or not," Chiolo said. "People were victimized and even if he's not the guy who broke into this house, I'm happy there's one less burglar in the street."
Police said Costanzo was brazen, hitting homes between 6:30 in the evening and 7 in the morning. In one incident, surveillance video captured him stealing a ladder from one home to get into another. Over the course of ten years, the District Attorney's Office estimates Costanzo absconded $4 million in cash, jewelry and other valuables. They finally nailed him when law enforcement from all three states met to discuss the similarities in the cases. Investigators zeroed in on Costanzo.
Costanzo's public defender John Stawicki said "He feels bad about any emotional trauma they (the victims) went through, he's not happy about harming anybody, physically or emotionally."
Costanzo's friends defended him outside court Thursday, saying the married father, stole to support his family.
"He was a good dude I don't condone this but you gotta do what you gotta do to survive," Earl Green said.
Shaneen Daniels added "He's a great person." When asked how Costanzo feels about the "Ninja Burglar" moniker, Daniels said "I don't think he knew any of that and wouldn't want to be called that."
Robert Costanzo will officially be sentenced to 25 years in jail on June 14th.