BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — SALEM — If you were looking for a story to reaffirm your faith in the human spirit during the holiday season, this isn’t it.
A distraught Peabody father forced to spend part of his Christmas Eve at Salem Juvenile Court because of difficulties with his teenage son then found himself the victim of a quick-witted criminal who was on his way out of the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center on Monday morning, police said.
The father was going through security at the courthouse, where he placed his belongings in a tray before walking through a metal detector. He accidentally forgot an envelope that contained $250 in cash, money he intended to use for his Christmas shopping, Salem police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski said.
Meanwhile, a man named Michael Nigro, 32, of Lynn, was leaving Salem District Court, in the same building, after what Prosniewski described as a contentious restraining-order hearing.
When an associate court officer at the security checkpoint saw the envelope, which had a window in it so that the money was visible, she picked it up and asked out loud if it belonged to anyone in the vicinity.
“That’s mine,” Nigro allegedly told the court officer, who handed it over.
Moments later, the real owner of the envelope full of money came rushing out of the Juvenile Court clerk’s office, panic-stricken after realizing he’d left the money at the security station, Prosniewski said.
The court officer then realized what had happened and called the police.
As she was describing the man who took the envelope, another court officer who had been present in the courtroom during Nigro’s restraining-order hearing recognized the description and gave police his name. Nigro has a “lengthy” criminal record, according to police.
Veteran Salem Patrolman Michael Levesque knew who Nigro was from prior run-ins with the law, Prosniewski said. And Levesque had recalled taking Nigro’s cellphone number during one of those incidents.
So he called him.
Nigro, who during the restraining-order hearing had been telling a judge he was broke and homeless, was enjoying breakfast at Red’s, where police found him.
The money, or what was left of it, $238, was stuffed into a sock, Prosniewski said.
The cash was returned to the Peabody father, and Nigro was taken back to the courthouse, this time as a defendant charged with larceny in a building.
Nigro’s court-appointed lawyer argued that the money Nigro had on him at the time of his arrest was his, not stolen, and Nigro pleaded not guilty.
Judge Michael Lauranzano shook his head as he set bail at $200, according to Prosniewski.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.