Michael Nicholoulias, 74, charged in antisemitic graffiti found in Montauk, officials say

A suspect under surveillance for a rash of antisemitic graffiti incidents at businesses and public spaces in Montauk was being followed by investigators when he painted yet another swastika at a local beach Monday night, officials said at a media briefing announcing his arrest.

Michael Nicholoulias, 74, of Montauk, was charged with two counts of aggravated harassment and one count of fourth-degree criminal mischief as a hate crime, both felonies, as well as 10 counts of making graffiti and one count of possession of a graffiti instrument, Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.

“[Nicholoulias] was being followed by members of our law enforcement team … who were able to observe [him] as he was bent over spraying a black spray paint swastika in the vicinity of a park bench,” Tierney said, speaking next to a table holding a can of Rust-Oleum black paint.

Tierney, who said the case was investigated by members of his office along with East Hampton and Suffolk police, said Nicholoulias was shown photographs of the antisemitic graffiti that has popped up in the East End hamlet since Oct. 29 and admitted “targeting those businesses,” which he believed to be Jewish-owned.

Nicholoulias, who Tierney said was not on any hate group watch lists before becoming a suspect in the Montauk case, also made “derogatory statements” to police over U.S. support for Israel in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, the district attorney said.

Nicholoulias was arraigned in East Hampton Town Justice Court Tuesday, where Tierney said he was to be released on his own recognizance, since he has not been charged with any bail-eligible offenses. The case will be brought to a Suffolk County grand jury soon, the district attorney said.

East Hampton Town Police Chief Michael Sarlo said he was pleased investigators were able to make a quick arrest in the case, which had alarmed the community.

“As much as the town of East Hampton and Montauk has grown, it’s still a very tight-knit community, a very diverse community,” the chief told Newsday. “And when something like this, on a global scale, hits home locally, it really touches a nerve within the community.”

Large swastikas and antisemitic graffiti were found at Ditch Plains Beach and the downtown business district in Montauk Oct. 30, sparking condemnation from town officials and leading to an anti-hate rally at a local park that evening.

Police said graffiti was found at a comfort station in the town parking lot at Ditch Plains Beach, as well as two nearby food concession trailers and a power meter box. More graffiti, sprayed in black paint, was found on fence and picnic tables in the common parking lot behind two restaurants on Montauk Highway — Naturally Good Foods & Cafe and Sausages Pizza and Pastabilities. Additional graffiti was found on one of the restaurant doors.

Many of the roughly half-dozen swastikas were 2-to-3-feet-tall, East Hampton Town Police Capt. Chris Anderson said at the time. Investigators believed one of the spray-painted slogans translated to “Free Palestine,” Anderson had said.

Tierney said surveillance footage from the initial investigation led police to believe the suspect drove a white PT Cruiser with a roof rack and two stickers in a side window, which helped authorities identify it.

After Nicholoulias allegedly made more hate graffiti at another Montauk beach Nov. 10, investigators started surveilling him, Tierney said. On a pair of prior occasions investigators followed him, believing he was looking to do more graffiti, but it wasn’t until Monday that they caught him in the act, the district attorney said.

Local, state and national law enforcement agencies have been on high alert for hate crimes and incidents since Oct. 7 and the start of the 2023 Israel-Hamas war. The number of hate incidents reported to Suffolk police this year even before Oct. 7 had already exceeded the total from all of 2022, according to an online department database. There have been 95 hate incidents reported through Nov. 30, 17 of which have come since Oct. 1, police told Newsday. Of those 95 reported incidents, 42 have involved anti-Jewish hate, police said, a third of which have come since October 1.

“We are seeing a dramatic increase in antisemitic hate crimes,” Suffolk Police Department Chief of Detectives John Rowan said. “The numbers we’re looking at are definitely way higher than they were last year.”

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