Rocco Parascandola, Larry McShane
New York Daily News
A pair of Queens strippers who flaunted their lifestyles on social media were targeted by two decidedly anti-social armed bandits, prosecutors and sources said Friday.
One of the well-to-do pair was the victim of 2021 home invasions — including one where she and her husband were zip-tied as the hoods aimed weapons at their children, authorities said.
The two robbers are now in custody.
Details of the two terrifying Queens apartment holdups emerged with the arrests of the bandits accused of fleeing with $79,000 cash in small bills — mostly singles — and $100,000 in high-end handbags in the first heist at one of the strippers’ homes on Jan. 27, 2021.
The money taken in that heist belonged to both women, the feds say.
The two suspects returned for a less successful second hold-up at the same apartment just nine days later, court papers indicate.
Pennsylvania resident Romel Catoe, 32, and Brooklyn resident Mathew Sanchez, 29, were thwarted in their criminal encore when one of the kids in the home dialed 911, with the bandits fleeing as the NYPD arrived, prosecutors allege.
The suspects allegedly left behind a cellphone while escaping, from which authorities collected details about the two robberies.
Catoe was arrested Thursday in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and detained by a Pennsylvania magistrate. Sanchez was already serving a state drug conviction sentence in Oklahoma. Both are expected in Brooklyn Federal Court at a future date.
According to a source, the suspects came up with their plan after spotting the two strippers’ extravagant social media posts showing the pair with elaborate bling and expensive designer handbags.
The two exotic dancers reportedly attracted hundreds of thousands of online followers — including the two bandits.
One text exchange on the night of the first robbery showed Catoe responding “IDC” or “I don’t care” as the two robbers discussed over text whether the kids were home.
“I’m ready thou like I’m ready ready,” Catoe texted minutes later. “Are we getting this?”
The robbers targeted the residence of one of the strippers, who was in the Dominican Republic the night of the home invasion, prosecutors wrote.
The stripper’s husband and young children were at home, however. A surveillance image from the incident shows the husband zip-tied in the floor of the cluttered apartment, with a mask-wearing suspect brandishing a gun.
The robbers made off with at least 16 luxury bags in the heist, running from a red Christian Dior handbag to a black Hermes handbag to a pair of pink Valentino handbags, officials alleged.
When the robbers returned the second time — now familiar with the layout of the apartment — they ordered the stripper and her husband into the bathroom at gunpoint, where they were zip-tied, prosecutors said. The bandits also allegedly pointed guns at the couple’s two children.
Prosecutors said Catoe and Sanchez used “terrifying tactics.”
A source familiar with the case said the two exotic dancers were not affiliated with any specific club, but performed at local venues and were well-known online. The strippers’ names were not included in court filings.
Catoe was additionally charged with laundering cash stolen in Queens through banks in and around Philadelphia, according to court papers.
The defendants were charged in a Brooklyn Federal Court indictment with robbery conspiracy, robbery, money laundering conspiracy and conspiracy to receive stolen property. Between Jan. 27 and Feb. 3, 2021, Catoe swapped thousands of dollars in small bills for larger denominations at a bank near Philadelphia, authorities charged.
According to court papers arguing for Catoe’s detention, Brooklyn prosecutors quoted text messages between the defendant and Sanchez where the pair referred to guns as “toys.”
And they noted the pair installed GPS tracking devices on the victims’ cars to track down where the two women lived while keeping an eye on their social media activities.
Catoe “was prepared for and not deterred by the likelihood there would be innocent victims, including children, at (the) residence,” prosecutors said.