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Area men charged with stealing Girl Scouts cookie money

NORTHAMPTON — Two Franklin County men have been charged in connection with the theft of a money box from Girl Scouts selling cookies at Walmart Saturday night in an incident that left a troop leader with serious injuries.

The incident was captured by the North King Street store’s video surveillance system, which helped Northampton and Deerfield police identify Cassidy R. Michalski, 25, of 18 Hoosac Road, Deerfield, and his alleged accomplice Nicholas Taverna, 22, of 79 Devens St., Greenfield. Michalski was arrested at home Monday afternoon and Taverna was arrested at home Tuesday morning, said Northampton Police Capt. Scott Savino.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the incident, police are urging Girl Scouts and other organizations that hold similar fundraising events to be careful about how much cash they keep on hand. Savino advises groups to keep just enough money to make change.

Michalski and Taverna both pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Northampton District Court to charges of unarmed robbery, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and shoplifting over $100 by asportation.

They were both ordered held on $5,000 cash bail.

The pair told police they stole two cell phones while at the Northampton Walmart earlier in the day Saturday, and then drove to Holyoke with the aim of trading the phones for drugs. When that idea failed, they devised another plan to go back to Walmart, where they had seen the Girl Scouts selling cookies in the lobby, Savino said.

Michalski parked outside the entrance while Taverna went into the store and approached four Girl Scouts, ages 11 and 12, at a table where they were selling cookies. He struck up a conversation with one of the girls, then reached over the table and grabbed a metal box containing cash and fled, police allege.

The pair made off with $392, according to court files.

An adult from Chesterfield who was supervising the Girl Scouts pursued Taverna into the parking lot, where Taverna got into Michalski’s vehicle. The adult’s hand got stuck in a partially open window of Michalski’s vehicle and he suffered “substantial” injuries to his hands, face and arms after Michalski accelerated and dragged him across the parking lot before his hand came free.

Michalski told police he heard a thump a short time later, and he continued to drive. Police said the girls were not injured. The robbery occurred on the first weekend of the Girls Scouts’ annual cookie drive.

Like in most crimes, police say the more details people can provide officers about an incident, the better chance they have to catch someone. In the Girl Scout case, several witnesses were able to provide partial license plate numbers and a vehicle description. That information helped officers track down the suspects, Savino said.

“The best thing for someone to do is to be a tremendous eye witness,” he said.

Michalski and Taverna will next appear in court on Feb. 22 for pretrial hearings.

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