By Julie Manganis
---- — SALEM, Mass. — Five men are facing charges that they tried to force their way into the home of a Dow Street man in order to rob him late Thursday night, police said.
Investigators believe the men had learned that the victim, an acquaintance, had recently come into a large amount of money, Salem Police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski told a Salem District Court judge during the men’s arraignments yesterday.
“This was a botched home invasion,” said Prosniewski, who said the money appears to have been the proceeds of an insurance settlement.
Charged in the case were Richard Mottola Jr., 27, of 1 Anne Drive, Peabody, the driver of a gray Acura stopped by police on Canal Street shortly after the incident; Alex Figueroa, 22, of 282 Washington St., Salem, who allegedly pointed a realistic-looking pellet gun at the victim and his girlfriend; Joseph “JoeFro” Fronduto, 20, of Saugus, who tried to convince the victim to get out of his car; Ryan Hussien, 21, of 148A Washington St., Peabody; and Abner Trinidad, 21, of 8 Lowe St., Peabody.
The Dow Street man and his girlfriend had just returned to his home, in her car, when they noticed two masked men standing near the window of the house, Prosniewski said.
The men did not immediately notice the victim in the car and asked his girlfriend where they could find him. When they persisted, the victim leaned forward and asked what they wanted.
Fronduto then asked the victim to get out of the car. When the man refused, police say, Figueroa allegedly pointed a gun at the couple. The victim’s girlfriend backed up in a panic, striking a pole, then pulled forward and backed away, as the suspects ran toward a parked Acura.
The couple followed the Acura as they called police, who caught up with the car on Canal Street and stopped it. As the men inside the car appeared to be moving around, police drew their weapons and ordered the men out at gunpoint, one by one.
The men are facing assault charges, as well as alcohol-related charges. Police found a realistic-looking pellet gun that resembled a handgun, as well as beer, hard liquor and three bags of marijuana in the Acura.
Lawyers for the men denied the allegations.
Figueroa’s lawyer, Patrick Regan, said his client did not have access to the locked glove box where the pellet gun was found and said there is no other evidence tying him to the crime.
Thomas Burke, who represented Fronduto, said there was no plan for a robbery; the men were planning to fight. Fronduto pushed the gun down after realizing that his co-defendant had aimed it toward the car, Burke said.
Lawyers for the remaining defendants said their clients were passengers in the Acura and had no idea what was happening.
Prosniewski said after the hearing that the proximity of the Acura to the victim’s house on Dow Street calls that claim into question.
Judge Matthew Nestor set bail for Fronduto at $5,000 and for Mottola, Hussien and Figueroa at $1,000 each; Trinidad was released on personal recognizance in the new case but remained held on a Peabody warrant in an unrelated case.
A pretrial hearing is set for Nov. 20.