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New Kensington trio sentenced in Jolar Armory burglary

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

PITTSBURGH -- A federal judge agreed yesterday that three New Kensington men convicted of stealing firearms from a gun shop shouldn't serve extra time in prison because a fourth accomplice was six months shy of his 18th birthday when the crime was committed.

"This is not a case where a mature adult was exploiting a child," U.S. District Judge Alan Bloch said in reducing each of the sentences below the range recommended by federal guidelines.

Bloch was less sympathetic to the idea that their sentences shouldn't be enhanced because they were stealing guns instead of non-lethal items or that they committed the burglary so poorly that they were all caught and confessed within two days.

Bloch sentenced Daniel T. Johnson, 20, and Nicolas J. Cox, 19, to two years in federal prison. He sentenced Aaron Booker, 19, to two years and three months in prison because he had more of a criminal history than the other two. He sentenced all three to three years of probation.

All three men pleaded guilty in August to stealing 14 firearms from Jolar Armory, in the 800 block of Fifth Avenue, New Kensington, in December 2009. They cut a large padlock off the metal security gate and then used a brick to smash a window.

They made off with three military-style rifles and 11 handguns, according to the indictment.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross Lenhardt said the fourth accomplice, a juvenile, was supposed to commit a shooting some distance away as a diversion to draw off police during the burglary.

"To the best of our knowledge, (the shooting) didn't take place," he said.

Bloch also ordered the trio to pay more than $8,400 in restitution for damages and expenses that Jolar Inc., the shop owners, incurred.

Defense attorneys argued that the restitution should be less because it includes an estimate for $223 in income the company lost for being closed for seven days after the burglary as well as costs for a security company to provide copies of the store video to local police and federal investigators.

John Ciesielski, president of Jolar Inc., said the three men should have received longer sentences.

"I feel it was entirely too light for the magnitude of what was stolen," he said.

Ciesielski said federal authorities told him at least two of the 14 firearms has since been used in local crimes: a murder and an accidental shooting that injured the foot of a 2-year-old girl. Lenhardt said he couldn't confirm Ciesielski's comment.

Thaao Stewart, 27, pleaded guilty in October to endangering the welfare of a child in connection with the shooting. New Kensington police said the .40-caliber pistol involved in the shooting came from the Jolar burglary.

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