NIAGARA FALLS - A Fourth Street man charged for his role in dozens of larcenies in the city in the past few months - including several outside downtown hotels - faces more serious charges that could net him up to seven years in prison.
Gregory A. Stephens, 48, is accused of failing to comply with the county's judicial diversion program on previous felony burglary charges.
Stephens pleaded guilty to nine counts auto stripping and criminal mischief in City Court last week, but is scheduled to return to Niagara County Court next week for a hearing, and could be removed from the program and sentenced to 3½ to seven years in prison on the previous burglary charges. He has been remanded to Niagara County Jail without bail.
He pleaded guilty in March 2011 to third-degree burglary, a D-felony, and third-degree auto stripping for entering a Niagara Falls Dollar Store on May 31, 2011 with the help of an employee, who gave him a key and in a separate incident, breaking into a vehicle parked at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. After agreeing to a plea bargain, he was allowed to enter the judicial diversion program of court-supervised drug treatment.
Niagara County Court Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas said last year that his charges could be reduced or dismissed if he succeeded, but if he returned he would "very likely" be sentenced to state prison.
Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Donatello said Stephens absconded from the program and their office asked that Stephens be returned to court on a warrant. While he was in custody over the past two weeks, he was charged by Niagara Falls police with breaking into a number of cars, said Police Superintendent John R. Chella.
"We originally charged him with breaking into multiple vehicles downtown. He took a plea, which consolidated the total to nine. We know there are a lot more and it was a very high percentage of the number of vehicles broken into throughout the year all over the city," Chella said. " was the individual that we believe was responsible for the number of break-ins of vehicles at the Giacomo and downtown for the past month."
Falls police knew the original burglary charge was much more serious and worked with the District Attorney's office on the plea bargain in the city, which Chella said is expected to be consolidated when Stephens returns to Niagara County Court next week.
"Getting him off the street with the help of the DA will help, and will make our job easier as far as car larcenies. We can now shift our attention somewhere else instead of on him," Chella said,
But the police superintendent said the arrest of Stephens has not put an end to vehicle break-ins. Chella noted there were four or five more overnight vehicle break-ins while Stephens was in custody.
"It was quiet right after he first went into custody, but now we are seeing a couple of incidents here and there. are up nine percent from last year," Chella said, but said Stephens had a strong role in those numbers.
The department has increased patrols to address the ongoing thefts.