Jeweler slain in Bayside heist

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Police were hunting Tuesday for a man who gunned down a Bayside jeweler while his family watched during an attempted robbery at his Horace Harding Expressway store last Thursday, 111th Precinct Captain Anthony Mullen said.

Fausto Rodriguez, 54, of Long Island, was killed at about 4 p.m. after an armed man masquerading as a customer shot him four times in the face and body, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.

Mullen said police had a strong lead in their search for the gunman, described as a Hispanic man in his mid-20s, 5-foot-8-inches tall with a partial beard. He declined to elaborate further.

Brown, who visited the scene at about 7 p.m. last Thursday, said Rodriguez's wife and brother-in-law were in Jilliann's Jewelry at 210-17 Horace Harding Expressway during the crime. "They may have witnessed all or a portion of the event," he said.

Brown said that after the killer was buzzed through the store's two security doors as a customer, he displayed a .380 caliber handgun and announced a robbery, herding Rodriguez and his wife into a back room before shooting Rodriguez to death and leaving with an undetermined amount of jewelry.

Neither Brown nor Mullen could confirm reports that Rodriguez, who had been the victim of at least one earlier robbery, struggled with the gunman.

The shooter escaped into a waiting white Oldsmobile stationwagon, Brown said.

Eddie Savarese, who works for Scanner Security Systems in Whitestone and frequently worked with Rodriguez, said he rushed to the store when he heard about the shooting. Savarese said the robber may have been caught on the store's security video, which was installed three months ago. Brown would not comment on that possibility.

As commuters exiting the Long Island Expressway slowed to catch a glimpse of the police activity at the shop, friends and customers of Rodriguez, a native of Ecuador, were dismayed to learn of his death.

"It's very said, " said Ellen Stasko of Bayside. "He was an honest jeweler. You could trust him - he was a good man."

Savarese said Rodriguez was "as nice a guy as you ever want to meet - just an all-around sweetheart of a guy." Savarese also said Rodriguez made police badges for many of the officers in the area. He said it was unfortunate that no officer was in the store at the time of the robbery.

"Everybody knew this guy," Savarese added.

At the School Board 26 meeting in nearby MS 74, board President Sharon Maurer said the shop was popular with District 26 staff.

Steve Veissy, a Little League coach and Bayside resident, said "everybody in the neighborhood did business with him.

"Once you did business with him it was like dealing with family," he said of Rodriguez. "I can't believe it. I was hoping to God it wasn't him."

Stasko, who said she was in the store during a 1991 robbery attempt, said Rodriguez had an elaborate security system as well as a rifle in the store.

Savarese also said Rodriguez kept a gun in the store, which DA Brown would not confirm.

Veissy said the shop, which had been at three different locations in Bayside over the years, was named after one of Rodriguez's daughters. He had moved into the current site from a larger shop several doors away.

Originally, he said, the shop was named for his first wife.

A young woman who did not give her name but identified herself as Rodriguez's daughter answered the door of their Suffolk County home Friday morning. She said her family lived in Bayside for about 18 years before moving to Long Island sometime during 1995.

As one woman sobbed loudly in a nearby room, the woman at the door said her parents divorced the same year. She then excused herself as she broke down in tears.

Services for Rodriguez were held in Bayside at the St. Robert Bellarmine Roman Catholic Church.

According to a note on the gate outside the shuttered store, where bouquets of flowers and other memorials had been placed Tuesday morning, a scholarship fund has been started for two of Rodriguez's children. For more information on the fund, call (718) 225-0394.

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