2006_12_safe.jpgIt's a post-Christmas miracle! The Church of St. Mel - it looks like most of the money will be recovered. The police have arrested two men in connection with the dastardly Christmas Day crime of stealing money for the poor from a Queens church. Daniel Morales was arrested yesterday when the police traced his car to his home. Morales's wife did call in the SUV used in the heist as being stolen, but that was apparently too late for the police's liking. Morales' lawyer, though, says his client is innocent: "He's a hardworking, nice man who finds himself in this situation. He's maintained his innocence to police throughout the questioning." Morales reportedly posed as a deliveryman during the heist - we believe the police would have put Morales in a line-up for the pastor and other church ushers to see!

The other man arrested is Daniel Almodovar, whose brother used to be an assistant caretaker for the church and who happens to be best friends with Morales. The NY Times had details on strange incidents at the church:

What happened in October may have been the prologue. That was when the caretaker of the church and its school, Jose Marrero, shot himself in the leg in the little house across the street from the church where he and his family stayed.

Mr. Marrero told the police the shooting was an accident, but a law enforcement official said yesterday that investigators now suspect that it might have been a diversion of sorts to cover up an earlier theft.

In any case, the gun was unlicensed, the police said, and Mr. Marrero was arrested on a weapons charge and is now on Rikers Island awaiting trial. Mr. Marrero’s son, Kiel Ortiz, 15, said detectives questioned him about his father on Tuesday. The police have not said Mr. Marrero is a suspect in the buglary.

Mr. Marrero’s assistant at the church was a man named Lenny Cancel. According to Mr. Marrero’s wife, Gloria Ortiz, Mr. Cancel had hoped to move up to head custodian when Mr. Marrero went off to jail, but he did not.

Mr. Cancel, who the police said was not a suspect, left the church’s employ within the last few weeks. Mr. Cancel has a younger half-brother, Mr. Almodovar.

On the upside for the church, $5,940 in cash was recovered - most of the other money meant for the poor plus church expenses - and other money donated was in checks, which parishioners are willing to replace. The Flushing Savings Bank is donating $5,000 and other people who have heard about the church's plight are reaching out.