Crime spree nets 8 years for Pittsfield man


PITTSFIELD -- The last of three men involved in a February 2012 crime spree that included crashing cars, stealing others and attempting to set a building on fire was sentenced on Friday to up to eight years in prison.

James E. Ledbetter, 27, of Pittsfield appeared in Berkshire Superior Court and pleaded guilty to 34 charges, including multiple counts of attempting to burn a building, larceny, breaking and entering and malicious destruction of property, among others.

According to prosecutors, Ledbetter, along with 25-year-old Steven A. Gratton and Jason Welsh, 22, were involved in a drug- and alcohol-fueled night of destruction on Feb. 24, 2012.

Second Assistant Berkshire District Attorney Robert W. Kinzer III said the men broke into adjoining businesses at 501 Dalton Ave. in Pittsfield, where they stole multiple items from inside before breaking into several vehicles in the parking lot, taking a Jeep on a joyride which they crashed into another car that Ledbetter had stolen a week earlier.

Once the first car was totaled they drove the Jeep through the front gate of an auto wrecking business in Cheshire, broke into more vehicles, and then stole a truck.

As they left the wreckers, two large diesel fuel drums fell off the back of the truck spilling fuel that had to be cleaned up at the cost of more than $100,000 by the state Department of Environmental Protection, according to Kinzer.

Back at 501 Dalton Ave., the men tried to set fire to two businesses in an attempt to hide their activities.

The fires in Jay's Custom Muffler & Auto and Castine Moving & Storage self-extinguished, according to fire officials.

The men then fled in two separate stolen vehicles and ended up crashing in different parts of the city, Kinzer said.

Kinzer has fixed the total cost of damages caused by the men at more than $572,000.

The prosecutor asked for a six-to-eight year state prison sentence, citing Ledbetter's long criminal history.

Attorney Marc C. Vincelette Sr., representing the defendant, said his client had a long history of alcohol abuse.

"Hopefully this is a turning point in a life so far ruled by his addiction to alcohol," the attorney said.

He asked for five to seven years in prison. Judge John A. Agostini ordered Ledbetter to serve a five-to-eight-year sentence at the Massachusetts Correctional Facility at Cedar Junction.

Both Welsh and Gratton pleaded to similar charges and are serving state prison sentences as well.


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