BRATTLEBORO -- A man who could have spent the rest of his life in prison as a habitual offender accepted a plea agreement of 10 to 15 years in prison.
James Monette, 31, formerly of Brattleboro, was accused of being a member of a burglary ring that ransacked homes in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
On Thursday, in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division, Monette pleaded guilty to five charges of burglary, one felony charge of possessing stolen property, one count of petit larceny, one count of retail theft and two counts of credit card fraud.
During sentencing, he admitted to using someone else’s credit card to make purchases at a Circle K and a Price Chopper in Brattleboro, shoplifting from Price Chopper, stealing a woman’s pocketbook at the Riverview Cafe, being in possession of two stolen ATVs, and entering homes in Dummerston, Guilford and Vernon with the intent of committing larceny.
All of the incidents happened in 2009, except the possession of the ATVs, which happened in 2008.
"The victims in these cases were all notified and told the defendant would be accepting the sentence," said Deputy State’s Attorney Steve Brown. "I have not heard any opposition to the agreement."
Monette was previously convicted of kidnapping, a series of breaking and enterings and armed robbery in Massachusetts and had been in jail there since 2008. In 2011, he was brought to Vermont to face charges
According to court documents, Monette, Jack Parda and Kenneth Watkins, all of Brattleboro, and Christopher Nichols, of Troy, N.H., were members of the burglary ring. The members of the ring were suspected of breaking into homes in Dummerston, Guilford, Vernon, Townshend and Marlboro, Bernardston, Northfield and Gill, Mass., and Hinsdale, Winchester and Chesterfield, N.H.
Brianna Hill of Brattleboro and David Anderson of Alstead, N.H., were also under investigation for allegedly participating in some of the burglaries. Though charges were filed against the pair, they were later dismissed.
In June 2011, Parda was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison for his role in the ring.
"Parda has a bad record and Monette has an even more horrific record," said Brown. "He has over 50 convictions for various crimes including thefts and burglaries."
Though the state was satisfied that Monette took responsibility for his crimes and accepted the offer, Brown questioned whether Monette could ever stay out of trouble.
"Looking at his past history, I hope he changes, but he has a history of just being a thief," he said.
Monette had two defense attorneys, Ted Kramer and former Windham County State’s Attorney Dan Davis.
Both told Judge David Sontag they have seen a change in him since they began representing him.
"James has been nothing other than sincerely remorseful and contrite on every occasion I visited him," said Kramer. "He has come a long way and learned a great deal ... he’s learned some hard lessons."
"From the get go he has been willing to step up and acknowledge his wrongdoing," said Davis.
The judge encouraged Monette to clean up his act and take advantage of any programs offered while in prison.
"You strike me as someone who is not stupid, although you did some stupid things," said Suntag. "I’m sorry it’s come to this."
While some people may look at these crimes as only property crimes, said Brown, "The victims felt they had been violated."
"The kids living in the house had trouble going to sleep because there had been a stranger in the house," he said.
Luckily, said Brown, no one was in the houses at the time of the burglaries, and who knows what might have happened if someone had been.
In 2010, Watkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.
As with Monette, both Parda and Watkins are facing additional charges in New Hampshire.
"Monette will be going to New Hampshire at some point," said Brown. "He’s going to be busy dealing with those charges."
Nichols has not yet been sentenced, but during Monette’s sentencing, Brown said he expected Nichols would be accepting a plea agreement as well.
Monette’s sentence was put on hold until Sept. 30 so he can complete his GED in Vermont before being returned to Massachusetts to finish out his sentence there, where he has served about two-and-a-half years of a two-to-three-year sentence.
Once he is released from custody in Massachusetts, he will be escorted to Vermont to begin his sentence.
The ring was broken up as a result of a joint investigation between law enforcement agencies in the tri-state region, including the Brattleboro Police Department, the Vermont State Police, the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, the New Hampshire State Police, the Massachusetts State Police, the Hinsdale Police Department, the Chesterfield Police Department and the Bernardston Police Department.
The case broke wide open on Sept. 19, 2009, after Nichols was spotted leaving the scene of a Hinsdale break-in.
According to a witness, Nichols was in a vehicle that matched one that had been seen following other burglaries in the area. Nichols was arrested by Brattleboro Police and was found in possession of items that had been stolen from the Hinsdale location.
According to court documents, Nichols admitted to his involvement in the burglary ring and named Parda, Watkins and Monette as his accomplices.
Burglary locations were identified by Nichols, who was escorted around the tri-state region by Lt. Todd Faulkner, from the Hinsdale Police Department, and Lt. Mike Carrier, from the Brattleboro Police Department.
Massachusetts State Police nabbed Monette on Sept. 20, 2009, after he crashed a stolen vehicle during a pursuit on I-91. Three days later, Brattleboro Police busted Parda and Watkins in a vehicle stuffed with stolen goods in Harmony Lot.
Items stolen during the burglaries included a laptop computer, coins, jewelry, cameras, flatware, radios, televisions, an iPod, a Playstation and an Airsoft gun.
More than $4,000 in damages to homes was caused during the burglaries.
Bob Audette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311 ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.