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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Neighbors of the man charged with murdering three New York shopkeepers of Middle Eastern descent described him on Friday as a self-styled "tough guy" who affected a fake Italian accent and claimed to be retired detective.
"He was the kind of guy who you could tell had watched 'The Godfather' too many times,'' said Ben Elchonen, who lives in the same Queens apartment building where murder suspect Salvatore Perrone, 64, often stayed with a girlfriend.
Police say Perrone, an independent clothing salesman who is divorced and owns a home in the city's Staten Island borough, began his killing spree on July 6 when he shot Mohamed Gebeli, 65, in his Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, clothing store.
On August 2, Isaac Kadare, 59, was killed in his Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, budget items store. On November 16, Rahmatollah Vahidipour, 78, was gunned down in a women's clothing boutique in Brooklyn.
Perrone was identified after police circulated a picture taken from a security camera near the scene of the third attack.
A rifle and .22 caliber ammunition consistent with shell casings found at the crime scenes were discovered in a duffel bag Perrone was seen carrying in the surveillance video, police said.
An attorney who represented Perrone at his arraignment could not immediately be reached for comment.
Perrone was charged with three counts of murder and three counts of criminal possession of a weapon. He pleaded not guilty to the charges on Thursday.
Perrone told police he was affiliated with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, according to the New York Post. A New York police spokesman could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Elchonen, 26, said Perrone gave the impression of playing the role of a cop, once questioning him as to why he was on the building's roof and telling him "we've gotten reports of someone throwing eggs."
"He acted like a tough guy, but he wasn't at all,'' Elchonen said. "He spoke with this heavy Italian accent, but you could tell he was playing a part, playing a role."
Bryan Gibbs, 33, who grew up near Perrone's Staten Island home, said Perrone "speaks 100 percent fluent, northeastern English.
"He has no accent whatsoever."
Gibbs said Perrone told him he was a retired detective, and for years patrolled the neighborhood, taking notes on neighbors' homes and calling in minor violations to the city buildings department.
"He is completely unhinged,'' Gibbs said. "When I was in high school I'd come home at one and two in the morning and (Perrone) would be sitting on a lawn chair in the middle of the street - not on his property, in the middle of the street - wearing a beret and drinking a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer, and just staring up at his house. It was insane."
Investigators said they have yet to determine a clear motive for why Perrone would have carried out the attacks, which occurred near closing time when the victims were alone in their shops.
Reporting By Chris Francescani; Editing by Paul Simao