- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

NEW YORK (AP) - A New York man pleaded not guilty to hate crime charges Wednesday after prosecutors say he targeted a teenager without arms in order to steal his cellphone.

Vincent Popalardo, 20, pleaded not guilty to robbery and assault charges - both as hate crimes - during an arraignment at state Supreme Court on Staten Island.

Popalardo and two juveniles have been charged with attacking 18-year-old Carlos Simon outside of a Dunkin Donuts around 8:30 p.m. on Nov. 30. The group asked Simon for money before accosting him and making off with his cellphone, authorities said.

“This defendant targeted the victim because of his disability, which shows that these actions were in fact hate crimes under the state’s statute,” said Richmond County District Attorney Michael McMahon. “All crimes are unacceptable, but those committed against an individual because of his or her disability are particularly despicable.”

Simon, a freshman at the College of Staten Island, told The Staten Island Advance in December that the assailants first asked him for money before they began rifling through his pockets as he tried to fend them off. He said one of them then grabbed his cellphone from a ledge and ran off.

Popalardo was arrested on Jan. 6 in Erie, Pennsylvania, authorities said. The two juveniles are facing charges in Family Court.

Popalardo’s attorney, Thomas White, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

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