The alleged crime spree ended on Thursday, June 1, when an employee at Riverhead’s Laundry Palace called 911 to say a man had just cut the rope and removed the flag from outside the business.

After the police arrived on the scene, they found a man matching the description of the suspect not far from the scene. He was later identified as Nelson Priester, 37, who is homeless.

Priest was reportedly uncooperative and initially declined to identify himself.

Investigators were able to link him to the flag theft after they found he was carrying several hooks used to hang the flag on flagpoles, police said.

Shortly after Priest’s arrest, police determined that flags had been stolen from at least five other businesses in Riverhead, mostly along Old Country Road.

According to police, Riverhead K9 units tracked down several flags after following a scent trail from Laundry Palace.

Other targeted businesses are:

  • Riverhead Motor City
  • Riverhead Municipal Garage
  • Heyuan beverage
  • Eagle Chevrolet
  • Riverhead Historical Society (on West Avenue)

Priest faces the following charges:

  • Two counts of fourth-degree grand larceny
  • petty theft
  • Level 5 Illegal Possession of Stolen Goods

He was released on a ticket to appear in court, with a date set for the future.

The Riverhead Township Police Department asks anyone with information about this case to contact the agency at 631-727-4500.

This isn’t Priest’s first encounter with law enforcement. He was arrested by Nassau County police in January 2022 on suspicion of driving a stolen car in Garden City, The Daily Voice previously reported.

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