PITTSFIELD -- A 25-year-old city man pleaded guilty to 31 charges Wednesday and was sentenced to up to seven years in state prison for his role in a February 2012 night of "mayhem and destruction" that prosecutors say caused "hundreds of thousands of dollars" in damage.
Steven A. Gratton appeared in Berkshire Superior Court and admitted to his role in a series of crimes that took place on Feb. 24, 2012. Two other men, James Ledbetter, 27, and Jason Welsh, 22, both of Pittsfield, were also charged in the crime spree.
"The damage, mayhem and destruction caused in a single night is astounding," Second Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert W. Kinzer III told the court. Kinzer previously fixed the total cost of damages caused by the men at more than $572,000.
Kinzer asked that the defendant be sentenced to between five and seven years in prison citing the seriousness of the crimes and Gratton's previous record that includes crimes of violence.
Gratton's attorney, Kenneth G. Warren Jr., admitted what happened that night was "a major mess," but pointed out his client's mental health issues, including schizophrenia and that he was on a combination of pills, alcohol and marijuana at the time the crimes were committed. The attorney said that while Gratton was involved in the spree he was "the third wheel" whose role was less than that of his codefendants.
Judge John A. Agostini said he was aware of Gratton's "serious mental health issues"
According to police and prosecutors, Gratton, Welsh and Ledbetter broke into adjoining businesses at 501 Dalton Ave. in Pittsfield, where they stole multiple items from inside including cash, a "Girls Gone Wild" DVD, electronics and candy bars. They then broke into a series of vehicles and stole others that they crashed into one another. The men drove a stolen Jeep through the front gate of an auto wrecking business in Cheshire, broke into more vehicles, and then stole a truck.
While leaving the auto salvage business, the men spilled two large diesel fuel drums that the state Department of Environmental Protection had to clean up at the cost of more than $100,000, according to Kinzer.
Back at 501 Dalton Ave., the men attempted to set fire two businesses located inside, Jay's Custom Muffler & Auto and Castine Moving & Storage.
The fire at the building, which houses five businesses, including a Salvation Army retail store, caused smoke and water damage. Many of the businesses had to close temporarily.
After attempting to torch the building, the men fled in two stolen vehicles, said Kinzer.
They were then in two nearly simultaneous accidents in separate parts of Pittsfield. Welsh crashed a pickup truck into a home on Brighton Avenue, destroying the deck, causing structural damage to the home, and wrecking a van parked in the driveway. About 30 minutes later, police responded to an accident on Holmes Road after Ledbetter crashed into a tree. Ledbetter was found outside the car with a broken leg, but Gratton had fled.
According to Warren, his client returned to the scene and was the first of the three defendants to confess to police.
On Wednesday, Gratton pleaded guilty to 31 charges, including multiple counts of attempting to burn a building, breaking and entering, malicious destruction of property and larceny of a motor vehicle, among other charges. He has been held in jail for more than a year awaiting the outcome of the trial.
One count of burning a building was dismissed at the request of the DA's Office.
Ledbetter was also scheduled to plead guilty on Wednesday, but backed out at the last minute. He is scheduled to go to trial on Monday.
Welsh is currently serving a five- to eight-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to similar charges in January.
The case was investigated by the Pittsfield and Cheshire police departments.
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