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Massena man has burglary count tossed; grand larceny charge reduced following court hearing

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MASSENA - A 29-year-old Massena man had a burglary count dismissed and a grand larceny charge reduced following a preliminary hearing in Massena Village Court.

Massena Village Justice Eric J. Gustafson ruled the evidence presented at the heating didn’t meet the standards necessary to prove that Robert J. Donnelly of 49 Brighton St. had participated in the Dec. 1 burglary at the Moose Lodge on Ames Street or that the proceeds from the heist of a safe had been more than $3,000.

Mr. Gustafson ruled the evidence did sustain a fourth-degree grand larceny count. He reduced the bail from $15,000 cash or $30,000 bond to $5,000 cash or $10,000 bond.

Massena Village Police had charged Donnelly with third-degree burglary and third-degree grand larceny last week after receiving a tip from an informant that the safe stolen from the Moose Lodge was in the basement at 49 Brighton.

Investigator Jason Olson, testifying at the preliminary hearing, said the informant had been picked up by police on April 19 as part of an unrelated investigation and while he was in police custody asked to talk to an investigator. He then signed a statement indicating he had seen the safe at Donnelly’s residence several times over the past four months and indicated Donnelly had told him he had been involved in stealing the safe.

The informant’s statement indicated Donnelly told him he and two other men had appoximately $3,500 found inside the safe. “He told me he had used a crow bar and a sledge hammer to open the safe. Robert grabbed the first envelope, which he told me contained about $800 to $1,000 and stuffed it in his pocket. Rob (and the two other men) spilt the remaining money, which was about $3,500,” the informant noted in his statement to police.

His statement suggested the two other men had initially broken into the Moose Lodge, discovered the safe and then shared the findings with Donnelly, who went back to the Moose Lodge with at least one of the men and helped steal the safe.

Inv. Olson said during his testimony at the preliminary hearing that after interviewing the informant police applied and were granted a search warrant for Donnelly’s residence. He said police found a damaged black safe with the door ripped off in the basement at 49 Brighton St.

He noted Donnelly was then arrested for the burglary. “He did make some statements in the initial interview,” Inv. Olson told Assistant District Attorney Andrew Botts.

“He indicated two individuals had brought a safe to his residence and asked him to hold the safe for him. He said when they brought the safe to him there was nothing inside it, but they told him they had got cash from the safe,” he testified.

But he said Donnelly had later modified his admissions. “During booking, he said he had lied to me and said (the two other men) had brought the safe to him intact and that they had broken it open upstairs in a bedroom. He further stated they had used the cash to purchase a half ounce of cocaine and 10 oxy pills,” the village police investigator testified.

Under cross examination from defense attorney Denice Goodrich of Snider, Kyriakopolous and Snider, Inv. Olson said he had responded to the Moose Lodge in the early afternoon hours on Dec. 1 after police received a burglary report. He said he saw damage to the main entrance door and pry marks Moose Lodge employees said had not previously been there. He said burglary investigation had gone cold until April 19 when the informant told police the stolen safe was in the basement at Donnelly’s home.

The other witness at the preliminary hearing, Donna Martin, said she had discovered the burglary when she reported to work shortly after noon on Dec. 1. “I opened the outside door and when I went to open the inside door I saw the door casing had been torn open and broken wood and the dead bolt were on the floor,” she said, noting that she called her supervisor and was told to report the burglary to police.

“I entered the building and grabbed the phone and phone book. I noticed the pull tab machines on the floor smashed. When I entered the building with police, I noticed the doors to the coolers were wide open, beer boxes had been thrown all over the room and the safe was gone,” Ms. Martin testified.

She said she next saw the safe on April 19 when Inv. Olson showed her photographs of a safe on his phone. “I recognized it as our safe from the Moose Lodge,” she told the prosecutor, reviewing a photocopy of one of the photographs provided to her by Mr. Botts. “It was bolted to the floor, and the rod went into here,” she added, pointing to a hole in the bottom of the safe.

The bartender at the Moose Lodge for the past six years said she believed there had been $3,500, if not more money, in the safe when it was stolen.

But under questioning from Ms. Goodrich Ms. Martin acknowledged she had not been working on Nov. 30 and did not know how much money was in the safe when the Moose Lodge closed on Nov. 30.

She said the Moose Lodge policy prior to the burglary meant that there would be $1,900 in the safe for three separate operations run by the club. “I also know there was $350 in one ticket box, but I don’t know what the daily takes were,” she said, noting her schedule runs from Thursday to Sunday most weeks.

Dec. 1 was a Thursday meaning she hadn’t been at work for a few days prior to the burglary.

Ms. Goodrich, in her closing argument, said the testimony provided at the preliminary hearing did not sustain the charges. She said there was no evidence Donnelly had entered the Moose Lodge or that $3,000 or more had been stolen from the safe. The police informant did not testify at the preliminary hearing and police were not allowed to testify about the allegations made in that statement.

Mr. Gustafson concurred with the defense attorney’s argument, reducing the grand larceny charge and ruling there was not evidence necessary to send the burglary count up to superior court for possible grand jury action.

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