Photo Gallery | Arraignment of George Bliss
PITTSFIELD — A city man charged with robbing a half-dozen businesses over the past month told police that he used a BB pistol and that an accomplice may still be at large.
George J. Bliss, 30, of Onota Street, pleaded not guilty to six counts of armed and masked robbery in Central Berkshire District Court on Wednesday.
He was remanded to the Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction, where he is being held without bail.
Bliss is a suspect in six armed robberies between Dec. 23 and Jan. 24, including two about 30 minutes apart from each other.
During his interview with police, Bliss allegedly admitted his involvement in the crimes. He told police he was armed with a BB pistol and he identified another man he said was also involved in all six robberies.
City police have not released information whether a warrant has been issued for that man, if he's already been taken into custody or if either man is a suspect in any other open robbery investigations.
Marc C. Vincelette, Bliss' court-appointed attorney, said it was troubling that his client may have given statements to police without having a lawyer with him.
"I never advise somebody to do it," Vincelette said following the arraignment.
"There is some indication in the report that (Bliss) gave some sort of statement that could be viewed as inculpatory, however it's tough to really comment without knowing exactly what that statement is," he said.
Vincelette said it was too early to contemplate a potential defense against the charges.
"I would think that with six armed robberies, our complete discovery would be in the hundreds of pages," Vincelette said. "I've got a page and a half now, so I'm not quite ready to make a call yet."
During Wednesday's arraignment, Vincelette asked Judge William Rota to allow Bliss to enter his plea from behind the metal door in the courtroom holding area, in an attempt to keep him out of view of media and courtroom observers.
"On armed robbery cases, oftentimes it turns into an identity defense," Vincelette said, "and if you look at the news reports that've been written about this, the descriptions are all over the place, from a person 5' 7" to a person 6-foot tall from 150 pounds to 200 pounds."
Pittsfield has seen a rash of 12 armed robberies since late November, most of them targeting local businesses.
In each of the six incidents for which Bliss is believed to be responsible, a handgun of some type was displayed by a white male who left each store with an undisclosed amount of cash, police said.
No one was injured in any of the robberies, according to police.
Reaction was swift from some of the stores Bliss allegedly robbed.
Reached by phone on Wednesday, Peaslee's Package & Variety owner Shane Peaslee said his family was "pumped" to hear police had apprehended Bliss.
"He's not going to be out there robbing people," Peaslee said. "Pittsfield Police did an awesome job."
Peaslee's son Alexander was working the counter when Bliss allegedly ran into the store and pointed a gun in his face, demanding money, on Jan. 9. Alexander thrust $1,500 from the register into the hands of the assailant, who quickly fled.
Shane Peaslee then put out a $1,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Responses, he said, followed with no delay.
"To be honest, I knew the guy's name the day after," Peaslee said. "I paid the money and I found out exactly who did it, and gave police his name and address"
He added that he understood police still had a case to build.
"Just because I said this is the guy doesn't mean it was the right guy," he said, "but it turned out to be this time."
Peaslee thanked his customers for their continued support through the ordeal.
Saurin Shah, manager of the Getty on Elm Street, which Bliss allegedly robbed on Dec. 23, called the arrest "a relief."
"We don't have to worry as much knowing somebody like this is out there," Shah said. "It's the best thing for the small businesses and the community."
At the Cumberland Farms on Dalton Avenue, which Bliss allegedly robbed on Sunday, manager Jody Dimassimo echoed those sentiments.
"We're very happy he was caught and hopefully he does a lot of time," she said.
About Bliss, Peaslee added, "I'd say anytime you point a gun in somebody's face, that makes you a dangerous person. Let's put it this way, [reward responders] were afraid to give me a statement."
Bliss was ordered held without bail for violating his probation on two unrelated cases; a larceny over $250 and uttering false checks case from 2014 and a 2015 larceny under $250 case.
Judge William Rota set bail at $100,000 on the armed robbery charges.
Meanwhile, Bliss' wife, Heidi L. Bliss-Reed, 35, was arrested Sunday on a charge of armed and masked robbery and is believed to have been the getaway driver in the Jan. 24 Cumberland Farms robbery. She was arraigned Monday in Central Berkshire District Court, where her bail was set at $1,000.
George Bliss is due back in court on March 1 for a pretrial hearing.
Rash of robberies ...
Here is a list of 12 armed robberies in Pittsfield since Nov. 23, 2015.
Nov. 23: Angelina's, West Housatonic Street
Dec. 4: Empire Pizza delivery driver, Parker Street
Dec. 8: Gulf station, Wahconah Street
Dec. 23: Getty station, Elm Street *
Dec. 30: North Street branch of Greylock Federal Credit Union
Dec. 31: Salvation Army, Dalton Avenue
Jan. 7: Dawes Avenue Variety *
Jan 9: Peasleee's Package & Variety, Wilson Street*
Jan 12: KwikMart, West Housatonic Street
Jan 23: Angelina's, Elm Street *
Jan 23: Subway, Tyler Street *
Jan 24: Cumberland Farms, Dalton Avenue *