Gaston County man accused in New York church break-ins

Joseph Woznik
Joseph Woznik Gaston County Jail

A Gaston County man is accused of hate crimes in connection with break-ins at four houses of worship in Queens, N.Y., the New York Daily News reported.

Joseph Woznik, 23, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted of the crimes, according to the newspaper.

Woznik is charged in connection with break-ins and thefts since March 20 at a Hindu temple and at Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Romanian Orthodox churches. The news article did not detail the types of hate crimes Wozniak is accused of committing.

He also has charges pending in Gaston County, court records show: felony possession of stolen goods and felony forgery of a check or other instrument.

“I’m mad at God,” N.Y. police said Woznik told them, according to the Daily News. “I don’t like church no more. I don’t want to deal with religion. I’m sick and tired of hearing about religion.”

Woznik on Friday denied the remarks in an interview with the Daily News at Rikers Island, New York City’s main jail complex. “I don’t hate God or religion,” Woznik said. “I’ve been here praying all day, begging for forgiveness.”

He said he is a homeless carpenter, a native of Puerto Rico and father of a 17-month-old daughter.

He decided to steal from churches, including three times from St. James Episcopal Church in Flushing, because he “didn’t want to harm people,” he told the Daily News. He was afraid of scaring innocent residents, particularly children, if he started breaking into houses, he told the newspaper.

The Daily News said Woznik formerly attended Elevation Church in Matthews, but an Elevation Church spokeswoman said “he is not in our system.”

Woznik is accused of stealing $1,800 intended for one church’s senior citizen ministries, and a camera, blank checks, gold-plated communion plate and money from donation boxes at other houses of worship.

Woznik told the Daily News he has slept on trains and dug through trash cans for recyclable cans to make money. He recalled how his mother, who battled a drug problem, died of a heart attack on his fifth birthday and how he never knew his father.

He told the paper his goals are to get out of jail alive, “see the sunlight again” and hold his daughter.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak