By Daniel Katzive
“Do you remember that one time when that thing happened? How did that wind up playing out, anyway?”
Local news reporters find their stories in lots of ways: press releases, tips from readers, and community board and precinct community council meetings – to name a few. And sometimes we just happen to be in the right place at the right time and start asking questions. It’s not hard to find stories to write about on the Upper West Side.
But what happens after the initial story? An arrest may lead to a long journey through the Byzantine criminal justice system. A proposal for new construction could require multiple environmental reviews before it’s rejected or allowed. Calls for City Council or State Assembly action may demand urgent attention but end up taking years to resolve. Meanwhile, plans are revised or abandoned; people move out of town; reporters move on to new stories. Without a new event or catalyst, readers are often left wondering about how things ultimately played out.
Today kicks off the first story of what West Side Rag plans to make a recurring series, called “What Ever Happened To…?”
A little over a year ago, a wave of armed robberies at food venues hit the Upper West Side. Police, residents, and businesses were on edge as a pattern emerged: a man was holding up taco trucks, restaurants, and a fruit stand at gunpoint. Five incidents occurred across the 20th and 24th precincts, and another a bit further north, before the suspect’s luck ran out on his seventh attempt.
Chased from the scene of a Harlem restaurant where he had allegedly brandished a gun and grabbed cash, the suspect attempted to commandeer a car, according to court filings, only to be thwarted as the driver fled, taking his key fob with him. Police apprehended suspect Ryan Little as he attempted to hide in St. Nicholas Park. A .40 caliber Ruger pistol was recovered from the park along with clothing and a backpack which matched the suspect’s possessions on security footage at the restaurant.
The arrest came as a relief to workers in the neighborhood, particularly those working at unprotected fruit stands and food trucks. Community Board 7 member Doug Kleiman discussed the crime spree at a meeting of the board’s Public Safety Taskforce in April 2022, welcoming news that a suspect had been apprehended. “It was a big concern. I spoke with a couple of the fruit truck vendors who were terrified and I think one of them also got hit twice,” Kleiman said. “Some good news, but some terrifying news for a couple of days there.”
The arrest also came at a time of heightened community focus on bail reform laws and accusations of lax prosecution by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. For that reason, a decision to bypass the state courts and charge the suspect in federal court got some attention in the neighborhood. Responding to a West Side Rag article, readers welcomed the decision to go federal, in hopes that it would more reliably keep the suspect off the streets. Neil Zuber, at the time commanding officer of the 20th police precinct, said: “All parties agreed that federal prosecution was beneficial and preferable in this case, and the feds took it.”
Because the Manhattan Robbery Squad detectives had connected Ryan Little, the suspect, with all seven robberies, Zuber indicated at the time that he expected Little would be charged with each of the crimes. In the end, though, federal prosecutors only charged Little with the “live crime” for which he had been arrested in Harlem. In that case, they alleged that he committed a Hobbs Act robbery (one involving interstate commerce); that he used a firearm in a violent crime; and that he violated a federal statute barring previously convicted felons from possessing firearms. (According to a complaint filed by an NYPD detective in federal court, Little had a 2007 state court conviction in North Carolina on a charge of kidnapping.)
So what became of Ryan Little and the federal case against him? Federal Bureau of Prisons records and statements made in court show the suspect has been held at the Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC), a federall facility in Brooklyn, since his arrest. But his prosecution for crimes committed in New York City has been delayed and complicated by a separate federal case against him in North Carolina.
The North Carolina case alleges that Little robbed a food truck in Greensboro shortly before the spate of robberies on the Upper West Side. It also accuses him of attempting to murder a witness to the Greensboro holdup. Court records indicate he was also a suspect in a spree of robberies in North Carolina leading up to the Greensboro incident.
While prosecutors agreed that Little’s New York case should be transferred to North Carolina where the most serious crime of attempted murder of a witness occurred, the judge in New York was unwilling to send Little south until a deal to plead guilty to the North Carolina charges had been negotiated. At the same time, the physical distance between Little’s North Carolina public defender and the Brooklyn detention center slowed negotiations on that case.
Finally this April, after several months of delay and about a year after the initial arrest, prosecutors and defense attorneys in both states agreed that Little would plead guilty to two of the three New York charges in the North Carolina federal court (the felon in possession of a weapon charge was dropped), where he will also plead guilty to the North Carolina charges; he would then be sentenced there. Federal prosecutors told the judge in New York at one point that the plea deal might also include reference to the other New York robberies, and that information could be considered in sentencing, though the full details of the deal itself are not yet available in the public record.
So where is Ryan Little now? Federal Bureau of Prisons records show he is still in custody at the Brooklyn detention center. He is expected to be transferred to Greensboro, North Carolina, soon where he will, if all goes according to agreement, plead guilty to the New York and North Carolina charges and be sentenced accordingly.
Little’s New York public defender did not return a call asking for comment, and his North Carolina attorney said he would not comment on a pending case. Addressing the court himself in a hearing earlier this year, Little, 38, told the judge he had previously struggled with addiction issues but was trying to stay clean. He said he had stayed in school only until 11th grade but that he had earned a high school equivalency degree.
Meanwhile, on the Upper West Side, life goes on at the fruit stand on West 86th Street and Broadway that Little allegedly robbed last year. Murat Goksu, the stand’s owner, said he was away when the robbery occurred. The two workers who were victimized were understandably upset and scared and no longer work in the fruit stand business, according to Goksu.
Taking a break from unloading a truck, Goksu pointed out a security camera mounted on the canopy over the cart that he said he had installed following the robbery. Told the suspect appeared likely to be behind bars for some time to come, he seemed to take little comfort from the news. “We don’t have to worry about him, but what about the others? What about the people who steal less than $1,000 [the monetary threshold for grand larceny],” he asked, explaining that theft is a big problem for the vending business now. His colleague, meanwhile, was taking care of customers, including two patrol officers from the 24th Precinct buying fruit. For the moment, at least, another robbery seemed unlikely.