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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Worcester, MA - Man admits to stealing from synagogue


WORCESTER — A city man was sentenced to state prison yesterday after admitting in court that he stole tens of thousands of dollars worth of religious artifacts from a local synagogue and pawned them for money to support his gambling addiction.

Donald E. Spencer III, 29, of 42 Stebbins St., was adjudicated a common and notorious thief and sentenced to 4 to 5 years in state prison yesterdayafter pleading guilty in Worcester Superior Court to 10 counts of larceny of more than $250, and four counts of larceny of less than $250.

Assistant District Attorney John A. O’Leary told Judge James R. Lemire that Mr. Spencer stole religious artifacts made of gold and sterling silver last year from Temple Emanuel at 280 May St., where he was employed as a custodian, and sold the items at the Gold Buyers, a pawnshop at 750 Grafton St.

The items included Torah shields, crowns and pointers, a Havdalah spice container and tower and a Kiddush goblet, which were appraised at a total value of more than $30,000 in 2004, according to a police report in the case.

Investigators were told many of the artifacts were irreplaceable, and some had been recovered from Nazi Germany. Some were returned to Temple Emanuel by police, but most were melted down for scrap, according to the report.

Mr. O’Leary said police went to the pawnshop Nov. 17 after a member of Temple Emanuel reported seeing items for sale there that appeared to have been stolen from the synagogue.

Investigators were told that Mr. Spencer had been selling damaged or crushed gold and silver items to the store for a period of time. Store employees said Mr. Spencer told them he was a rubbish man and came into possession of the items while cleaning out a former church.

When confronted by police, Mr. Spencer admitted stealing the artifacts and pawning them in exchange for cash, according to Mr. O’Leary. Another police report in the case indicates he also admitted crushing some of the items before selling them as scrap metal.

Temple Emanuel officials said 31 artifacts with an estimated value of $73,400 were stolen from the synagogue. Mr. O’Leary said the temple expected its insurer to cover the cost of the stolen items, minus a $2,500 deductible.

Mr. O’Leary recommended that Mr. Spencer be adjudicated a common and notorious thief and sentenced to 6 to 8 years’ imprisonment with probation and restitution.

A common and notorious thief adjudication increases the maximum allowable sentence for larceny from 5 to 20 years.

Mr. Spencer’s lawyer, Lynne S. Martin, recommended a prison term of 2 to 3 years, with probation.

Ms. Martin said her client stole the artifacts to support his gambling addiction. The only other crime on his record, she said, was a 2009 larceny conviction that landed Mr. Spencer on probation for 5 years.

As conditions of probation in that case, Mr. Spencer was ordered to pay $45,000 in restitution and attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings.

Ms. Martin said Mr. Spencer attended the meetings and was doing well, but then had a “relapse.”

His probation officer, Melissa Charlton, told Judge Lemire Mr. Spencer paid a total of $2,500 in restitution since being placed on probation in 2009.

When asked by Judge Lemire, Ms. Charlton said the advisory sentencing guidelines for the new charges to which Mr. Spencer pleaded guilty called for a sentence of 36 to 54 months.

Judge Lemire sentenced Mr. Spencer to 4 to 5 years’ imprisonment on the new charges and to a concurrent term of 4 to 5 years on a violation of his probation from the 2009 larceny case. Mr. Spencer was given credit for 146 days he spent in custody awaiting trial.

By Gary V. Murray TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF

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