Queens Businessman, Hooked on Opioids, Admits to Buffalo Gym Break-ins

George Piha owned a liquor store in Ridgewood and was a successful businessman and politician in Romania until he developed an opioid addiction.Photo courtesy of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

George Piha owned a liquor store in Ridgewood and was a successful businessman and politician in Romania until he developed an opioid addiction.Photo courtesy of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

By David Brand

A successful Queens businessman who began stealing to feed his opioid addiction was sentenced in an upstate New York court after he admitted to breaking into gym lockers to steal credit cards.

George Piha, a Romanian native, who lived in Middle Village, was sentenced in Buffalo criminal court Tuesday to two to six years in prison, Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announced Tuesday.

In October, Piha pleaded guilty to three counts of identity theft in the first degree, two counts of burglary in the third degree, and one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree, Flynn said. Because his crimes were felony-level offenses, Piha was not eligible for diversion court, a spokesperson for the Erie County DA’s office said.

Piha admitted to breaking into gyms in and around Buffalo between February and July.

He used bolt cutters to pry open the lockers and swiped gym-goers’ credit cards, which he used to make more than $95,000 in purchases at Apple and Best Buy stores.

He faces similar charges involving gym break-ins other parts of upstate New York, including the Albany area.

In his native Romania, Piha, who holds dual citizenship, was a prominent politician and businessman, the Buffalo News reported.

According to business records, Piha owned Ridgewood Wine and Liquors on Fairview Ave. He returned to Romania in 2005 when his father was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease.

After returning to Romania, Piha launched a successful construction company and served as deputy mayor in a town near Bucharest, the Buffalo News reported.

In 2016, Piha was involved in a car accident and became addicted to opioid pain medication. He came back to Queens to feed his opioid dependence, prosecutors said. Piha moved on to other parts of New York and began stealing to pay for pain pills.

"I know I made horrible mistakes to support my addiction," Piha said in court, according to the Buffalo News. "And I have to live with it my whole life. And this is much greater than the punishment I get today."