Hoppy ending as Soho rabbit rustlers return boutique bunny | East Villager & Lower East Sider

Hoppy ending as Soho rabbit rustlers return boutique bunny

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Marina Zurita McKinnon, 7, of Chelsea, was happy to see Miss Cooper back in the Alexander Berardi boutique window on Prince St. on Saturday.   Photo by Jefferson Siegel

BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL  |  It was a hare-brained scheme from the get-go that no one found very bunny, er… funny. A rabbit that spent its days in the window of a Prince St. boutique was kidnaped on Wednesday night March 14 by two people wearing cowboy hats.

The rabbit, Miss Cooper, was lifted while Alexander Berardi boutique co-owner Christopher Kulukundis was busy with a customer. The hat-donning duo had often stopped by to pet the rabbit, just as many other passersby and customers did.

“ ‘Every time I’m in the area I’ve got to come in and see the bunny,’ ” Kulukundis said one of the thieves had told him. On this particular night, however, the man, later identified as Thomas Smith, 62, and his lady friend, Andrea Ruggieri, 45, hovered over the Holland Lop bunny for several minutes. After they left, Kulukundis was shocked to find Miss Cooper gone.

The rabbit rustlers, reported to be homeless, apparently told a friend about the cute critter, who, in turn, convinced them to return it. Late Friday night Miss Cooper was brought to the First Police Precinct in a small fish tank filled with Froot Loops. Just after noon on Saturday, a detective called co-owner Alexander Berardi to report that the bunnynapers had been busted.

After taking the call, Berardi emerged from the boutique’s back room to replace a “missing” sign from the store’s window with a sign reading, “Miss Cooper The Bunny Of Soho Has Been Found.”

One particularly happy neighborhood resident was investigative journalist Carl Bernstein, who blew open the Watergate scandal. He was relieved that “Bunnygate” had been solved.

“I’m never for the death penalty — but for kidnaping, the Lindbergh Law should be invoked,” he quipped. “Death penalty for kidnapping a rabbit!

“I always make a point of walking by and waving at the rabbit,” Bernstein continued as his wife, Christine, stood nearby. “I’m glad it’s going to be a happy ending.”

Midway through the afternoon, Kulukundis arrived at the store with Miss Cooper in a small carrier and took her to the back room. Soon after, Berardi appeared holding the increasingly famous furry mascot and gently placed her back in the store’s display window.

Before long, curious and admiring faces pressed against the store window as people leaned in for a closer look at Miss Cooper, who by now had settled down in the synthetic grass and seemed to take all the attention in stride — or rather, in hop.

On Sunday afternoon, Smith and Ruggieri were arraigned in Manhattan Criminal Court on charges of petty larceny and stolen property. Smith’s defense lawyer, John Carney, teared up as he spoke to reporters in the building’s lobby. Smith, he said, was a lonely man and had formed a bond with the bunny.

“He’s an animal lover, not a hater,” Carney said, adding that Smith “wanted something to love.”

Speaking before the judge, Smith said he alone was responsible for the heist and asked that Ruggieri be shown leniency. The judge consented, releasing Ruggieri on her own recognizance but holding Smith on $500 bail.

Miss Cooper, no doubt, will have quite the tail — umm…tale — for her progeny one day.