Wednesday June 19, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Two men will avoid serving additional jail time for their admitted roles in four burglaries in Saxtons River, Westminster and Rockingham.

Christopher A. Goldschmidt, 19, and Lance Thomas, 20, each were sentenced Tuesday to suspended prison sentences of two to four years -- meaning they won’t have to serve that time if they abide by the conditions of their probation.

Judge John Wesley noted that both suspects, arrested in early 2012 as part of a probe into a multistate burglary ring, already had served time for burglaries in New Hampshire.

"I do not believe that additional punitive sanction is necessary to accomplish the ends of justice in this case," Wesley said.

Thomas, a former Rockingham resident who has relocated to Florida, pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary in connection with break-ins on Oct. 11, 2011, at Pleasant Valley Brewing in Saxtons River and on Oct. 12, 2011, at Dish on Main in Rockingham.

He also pleaded to aiding in the commission of a felony on Oct. 20, 2011, at the Community Feed Store in Westminster.

Goldschmidt, formerly of Athens and now living in Brattleboro, pleaded guilty to three counts of aiding in the commission of a felony. In addition to the break-ins at Pleasant Valley Brewing and Community Feed Store, he also pleaded to involvement in an Oct. 12, 2011, burglary at Emerson Small Engine in Westminster.

Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney Steven Brown said burglaries are more than property crimes. The burglary-ring cases highlight "how destructive burglary crimes are to the community as a whole, especially when you have small businesses," Brown said.

"You have business owners who are trying to make ends meet. Many of these business owners actually knew some, if not all, of the defendants who were involved in the crimes on their properties. It is quite difficult for these victims to understand how something like this could happen."

Brown also noted that Goldschmidt and Thomas were involved in some cases with Criscenzo Ruggiero, a Westminster resident who in January was sentenced to serve one year in prison and five years of probation.

It would be "wholly unfair," Brown argued, to not also sentence Goldschmidt and Thomas to prison time. He asked Wesley to impose a four- to eight-year sentence on each defendant, with that sentence suspended save for four months to be served behind bars. Brown also requested that the pair serve five years of probation.

But both Goldschmidt and Thomas, in their own words and through their attorneys, said they had learned their lessons and were working to turn their lives around.

Attorney Michael Harty, representing Goldschmidt, said his client is "one of the most conscientious young men I’ve ever met."

Harty called to the stand Louis Vitale, Goldschmidt’s brother-in-law. The Athens resident said Goldschmidt worked for him when he operated the 7-Eleven store in West Brattleboro and also has regularly cared for his severely disabled son.

"The amount of respect and responsibility I see in such a young man is almost overwhelming for me," Vitale said.

Goldschmidt expressed remorse for his crimes and said he "got caught up in the wrong crowd" at a young age.

"I look at what happened, and sometimes I ask myself how somebody like me got into something like this," Goldschmidt said.

He said he is seeing a therapist, has gotten a car and an apartment in Brattleboro and is expecting a baby next month with his fiancé.

"I’ve matured greatly since these actions almost two years ago," he said.

Both he and Thomas said their burglary-related prison time in New Hampshire -- officials said both men served about 45 days there -- had a deep and lasting effect.

"I’ve learned from this experience. I was terrified to be in jail in New Hampshire," Thomas told the judge.

Thomas said he is working at a country club in Florida and is moving in with his mother, who is ill.

"I’ve changed who I see, who I talk to," Thomas said.

Attorneys for both men asked for probationary sentences rather than jail time.

Wesley asked Goldschmidt and Thomas to stand together for sentencing, noting the similarities in their crimes. The judge said burglaries are "every small-business owner’s nightmare."

"Monetary losses are really the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impacts of this criminal behavior," Wesley said. "It is the sense that, in our small communities, nothing is safe anymore. And nothing is sacred."

At the same time, Wesley noted the defendants’ lack of any criminal record before the burglaries and their efforts to reform themselves since.

In imposing the suspended jail time and ordering three years of probation, Wesley said some might consider the sentence lenient.

"You’ve been given a chance," the judge told Goldschmidt and Thomas. "Use it well."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.