Luzerne man admits his part in 'chop shop' operation
A Luzerne County man admitted his part in a "chop shop" operation during guilty plea proceedings Tuesday in Carbon County court. He was one of several defendants in pending criminal cases to enter a guilty plea before Senior Judge Richard W. Webb.
Michael Allen Stewart, 38, of Freeland, entered guilty pleas in three pending cases including his part in the chop shop operation that was going on at a property in Lausanne Township.
State police at Hazleton charged Stewart as part of their investigation of the operation at 194 Ten Point Lane in the township. Edwin Torres, of that address and also listing a Allentown address, previously pleaded guilty to charges involving the operation. His sentencing is pending. Troopers said Torres was the man in charge of the operation.
Stewart pleaded to one count each of criminal trespass, as a felony three, operation of a chop shop, a felony two, and possession of unstamped cigarettes, a misdemeanor.
In the chop shop operation all terrain vehicles (ATVs), lawn mowers and other items were stolen from the Lehigh County area and brought to the Lausanne Township site to be dismantled. Troopers served a search warrant on the property and found numerous stolen items.
The trespass and cigarettes counts stem from an incident in October 2009 at the Beltzville Storage facility in Franklin Townsip. Stewart was caught at the scene with a co-conspirator stealing cartons of cigarettes. An investigation revealed that Stewart and his co-defendant had stolen 101 cartons of cigarettes, none of which had the proper tax stamp for Pennsylvania.
Webb accepted the pleas but deferred sentencing ordering a presentence investigation (PSI) be prepared by the adult probation office. Stewart is currently in custody on pending criminal charges.
Webb commented after accepting the plea, "That's why they say cigarettes are hazardous to your health."
Other defendants who entered pleas before Webb included:
Daniel Joseph Schaub, 29, of Lehighton, entered guilty pleas in three pending cases. He pleaded to one count each of simple assualt, disorderly conduct and driving under the influence (DUI).
The assault count stems from an incident on Oct. 4, 2009, in Franklin Township with Jennifer Rudelitch the listed victim and occurring at 327 Held St., the defendant's residence.
The conduct charge stems from a Oct., 9, 2009, incident at his residence with Gregory Schaub the listed victim.
The DUI occurred on July 30, 2009, along Held St. near his home. Given a test, the result was .22BAC.
Webb accepted the pleas but sentencing was deferred at the request of defense counsel Atty. Joseph Perilli who said his client was making arrangements to enter a alcohol rehabilitation inpatient program.
Kristeen Lee Velazquez, 28, of Allentown, pleaded to one count of possession of a controlled substance-crach cocaine. She was arrested by agents of the state Attorney General's office on Feb. 5 at a residence in Lehighton. Found during a search of the home was cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana along with $500 in cash. There were children present in the home at the time of the search, it was noted.
In a plea bargain another drug count and endangering the welfare of a child were dropped. The bargain also called for a time served sentence.
Webb sentenced her to time served (96 days) to one year in jail and she was immediately paroled.
Travis Lynn Schrantz, 41, of Lehighton, pleaded to one count each of insurance fraud and false reports. He was charged by Franklin Township police with making false insurance claims with Liberty Mutual Insurance for tires for his vehicle. Police said he received payment for the tires but never purchased any. He reportedly made seven claims for tires over a period of time.
Webb accepted the plea but deferred sentencing until the adult probation office could determine the exact amount of restitution.
Joshua T. Yencho, 21, of Drums, Luzerne County, pleaded to one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. He was arrested on Sept. 13, 2009, along E. Main St., in Weatherly, after being stopped for speeding. Drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle.
Webb placed him on probation for six mohths and ordered he get a drug and alcohol (D&A) evaluation and follow any recommendation for treatment. He must also render three hours of community service per month while on probation.
John Roth, 40, of Lehighton, pleaded to one count of DUI. He was arrested on Nov. 23, 2009, along Ashtown Road in Mahoning Township, after being involved in an accident. Given a test, the result was .13BAC.
Webb accepted the plea but deferred sentencing to give Roth the opportunity to apply for placement in the Intermediate Punishment Program (IPP).
Anthony Tyrone Bernardo, 36, of Lansford, pleaded to one count of DUI. He was arrested on Jan. 18 along SR209 in Mahoning Township. Given a test, the result was .15BAC.
Webb sentenced him to serve 48 hours to six months in jail, a fine of $500, one year license suspension, and get a D&A evaluation.
John Lee Booker, 55, of Erie, pleaded to one count of receiving stolen property. He was arrested on Jan. 28 along the northeast extension of the turnpike in Franklin Township. He was stopped for speeding and found in the glove compartment of the vehicle was a .22-caliber gun which had been previously reported stolen in Erie.
Webb placed him on probation for a year and ordered he perform three hours of community service per month while on probation.
Ryan Eric Graver, 40, of Lehighton, pleaded to one count of DUI and a summary offense of careless driving. He was arrested on Nov. 21, 2009, along Pohopoco Drive in Franklin Township after being involved in an accident. Given a test, the result was .18BAC.
Webb sentenced him to serve 48 hours to six months in jail, a fine of $500, get a D&A evaluation and a one year license suspension. On the summary offense he was fined $25 and costs. He begins the jail term on Friday, May 14, at 6 p.m.
Each defendant sentenced must also pay court costs and a $50 per month supervision fee.