Myra Castleberry, 54, has gained international attention over the years for hugging tipsy men while picking their pockets.
In court today after her 60th arrest, Buffalo’s “Hugging Bandit” pleaded not guilty to a grand larceny charge.
The Genesee-Moselle neighborhood woman was arraigned before State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang on the latest charge for a July 22 incident, according to the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.
Castleberry is accused of stealing a wallet from a 35-year-old man’s pants pocket while he negotiated a cab fare near Jim’s Steakout on Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue, according to the DA’s office.
If convicted of the fourth-degree grand larceny charge, she faces a prison sentence of two to four years.
Laura El-Bahtity, a Legal Aid Bureau lawyer representing Castleberry, asked the judge to ban TV news cameras from the courtroom during the arraignment.
The judge refused.
Then El-Bahtity asked the judge to proceed with the court hearing without Castleberry being present.
El-Bahtity said the prosecution’s case relies on an identification by a witness who was first shown a single photograph.
The defense lawyer called it “a case solely based on identification.”
El-Bahtity told the judge she made the requests to prevent photographs of her client at the arraignment “to try to get as fair a jury pool as possible.”
Assistant District Attorney Jaharr S. Pridgen asked for bail to be set at $50,000, given the defendant’s 44 previous misdemeanor convictions and six felony convictions. Wolfgang did so.
Castlebarry tried to cover her face with her coat as she walked into the courtroom, and turned her back to the cameras during the times when her lawyer was not talking to the judge from the defense table.
In past years, Castleberry has been arrested for distracting intoxicated men in the city’s entertainment district by fondling them and then stealing their wallets.
Police arrested Castleberry in 2007 on charges of grand larceny and false personation, and said at the time they suspected her in dozens of similar incidents going back at least a decade.
She pleaded guilty in May 2007 to the false personation charge and was sentenced to time served, according to City Court records.
In January 2008, she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of petit larceny and, four months later, Castleberry was sentenced to one year in prison on that charge, according to the District Attorney’s office.