BALLWIN • In an apparent case of biting the hand that feeds, a St. Louis man is accused of pilfering cash from a religious center that had helped him out.
The Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis said it had given Brian Belmonte, 34, about $1,400 in assistance to pay rent and utility bills since 2008. He'd told leaders there that he was struggling after a stint in prison. He also caught a sympathetic ear when he asked for a Greyhound bus ticket to attend his father's funeral in New York.
Then, in October, Belmonte visited the adjoining Daar Ul Islam mosque in the 500 block of Weidman Road and asked Imam Minhajuddin Ahmed, a prayer leader there, for a little extra help. Ahmed said he gave Belmonte about $50 out of a $500 petty cash drawer meant for sadqa, charity for the sake of God that typically helps people navigate bumps in the road.
The next morning, Belmonte allegedly broke into Ahmed's office and stole the remaining contents of the drawer. Surveillance video placed him at the scene, office workers said.
Belmonte has been charged with first-degree burglary and stealing under $500. According to a recent arrest warrant, he admitted to the crime.
On Friday, sitting at the same desk that the money was stolen from, Ahmed, 30, shook his head at the case and laughed a little bit. "I am at the point that nothing surprises me anymore," he said.
Like a rabbi, priest or preacher, he often hears street stories of woe.
"I want to go beyond saying 'Stop stealing, fear God and this is a sin,'" Ahmed said. "What is the need that is driving him to take such rash steps?"
Belmonte, who has many aliases, could not be reached for comment. He has been in a St. Joseph, Mo., prison since November for possession of a controlled substance, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.
"We just wish the best for that guy, that unfortunate soul, and that he gains guidance and repents," Ahmed said.
To do that, to receive complete forgiveness from God in this case, he said the thief would have to feel sincere regret for what happened, give up stealing and resolve never to do it again.
On top of that, he'd need to return what was stolen.
"He doesn't have to announce it by microphone, just come by and give it one day," he said.
The mosque wall has a half-dozen drop boxes to choose from, each for a different cause. Ahmed recommended the one titled: "Sadqa for Needy."
Each donation falls through a chute and, these days, lands in a safe.