BRATTLEBORO -- An accused member of a multistate burglary ring says a cocaine addiction led him to participate in nine break-ins in Westminster, Saxtons River and Rockingham.
"I just got wrapped up with the wrong group of friends and the wrong substance, and I got addicted to that substance," 21-year-old Criscenzo Ruggiero told Judge David Suntag on Thursday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.
The Westminster resident pleaded guilty to five felony counts of burglary and four misdemeanor counts of aiding in the commission of petty larceny.
Suntag sentenced Ruggiero to six to 10 years in jail, but that sentence is suspended: He actually will serve one year in prison and then five years of probation as long as he complies with court-ordered conditions.
Ruggiero is scheduled to plead guilty today to burglaries in New Hampshire, and authorities said six months of his prison sentence will be for crimes in that state.
"It was agreed that he could serve all of his time in Vermont," said Steven Brown, Windham County deputy state’s attorney.
Suntag read the date and place of each burglary as Ruggiero pleaded guilty. In some cases, Ruggiero admitted serving as a driver; in other incidents, he acknowledged entering the business.
Some days included multiple heists:
-- July 27, 2011: General Truck and Equipment Inc., Westminster.
-- Sept. 26, 2011: Perfect Creations and D&R and Sons Auto Repair,
-- Oct. 3, 2011: Mr. G’s Liquidation Center and Naughty But Nice, both in Westminster.
-- Oct. 12, 2011: The Dish on Main in Saxtons River and Emerson & Son in Rockingham.
-- Oct. 19, 2011: Pleasant Valley Brewing, Saxtons River.
-- Oct. 20, 2011: Rockingham Transfer Station, Westminster.
Ruggiero pleaded guilty Thursday morning, but his sentencing happened about six hours later. That gave prosecutors time to gather input from victims and invite them to court.
"These are not just property crimes," Brown told Suntag. "These are crimes that affect people’s lives."
To back that up, he read short statements from several of those whose businesses were burglarized. Some said the sentence was fair, while others said it was too lenient.
One business owner told prosecutors that "we want these kids to know that this one night on the town had major repercussions." Another said Ruggiero has "no moral compass. He doesn’t care."
Appearing in court was Traci Slate, co-owner of Naughty but Nice. She recalled finding the business’ door kicked in and a safe popped open.
Slate also said the burglary had made her feel insecure.
"You don’t think anything like this is going to happen to you," Slate said as she left the courtroom. "All of the sudden, looking out into a dark parking lot and having to leave in the dark . . . takes on a whole new meaning."
Nonetheless, Slate wished no ill on Ruggiero.
"I hope he does well," she said.
Brown said he has "great hope" that Ruggiero will turn his life around.
"He will control his destiny going forward," Brown said.
Ted Kramer, Ruggiero’s defense attorney, said his client’s family has suffered in the aftermath of the crimes. The burglaries are "a great source of shame for three generations of Ruggieros," Kramer said.
Ruggiero -- who acknowledged that he knew a few of the business owners who were burglarized -- was hanging out with the wrong crowd, Kramer said.
"His biggest mistake was getting involved with illicit substances, which created a dependency," Kramer said.
He added that his client had learned from the experience. And Suntag warned Ruggiero that the more-lengthy jail sentence awaits if he does not abide by the conditions of his sentence.
That includes a prohibition on any drug use.
"It would be a terrible mistake if you would choose to use," Suntag said.
While under court supervision, Ruggiero is subject to random searches and must undergo drug testing and counseling. He also must testify against any other suspect in the burglary ring, the judge ordered.
Ruggiero will have to work with representatives of the Bellows Falls Restorative Justice Program. And he must meet with representatives of the businesses he burglarized if they request such a meeting, Suntag said.
Otherwise, though, he is required to stay away from those businesses.
It’s not yet clear how much restitution Ruggiero will be required to pay. Brown said restitution orders currently exceed $1,000.
"We’re still waiting on feedback from other victims," Brown said.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.