A Freeport landscaping company owner pleaded not guilty at federal court in Central Islip on Thursday to a string of armed home invasion burglaries that had targeted his clients across Nassau County since February.
Johnny Cerda, 28, is accused of leading a group of men armed with handguns to break into the homes of business owners, family and friends, often in broad daylight and sometimes resulting in violence.
In one of the early cases, the group broke into a Merrick home, assaulted the owner, dragged him upstairs, gagged him with a sock, put a pillowcase over his head and beat him, federal prosecutors said. The group made off with case, jewelry and electronics while the victim was treated for a broken nose, according to court documents.
In another case in May, the group struck in Baldwin, where they tied up several victims and assaulted an elderly woman, said prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which covers Long Island.
Four suspects were arrested shortly after the second home invasion and identified Cerda as the ringleader, according to an affidavit by a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who investigated the case along with Nassau police.
Cerda was held without bail by U.S. Magistrate Judge A. Kathleen Tomlinson.