WILKES-BARRE — Former Plains Township police chief John Timko said he knew Donald Thomas III would turn to crime again.
If Timko and two others, Mike Fuller and Stanley Sierko, had their way, Thomas would be in state prison and houses in Hanover Township and Pittston would not have been recently plundered.
Thomas, 35, of Foote Avenue, Duryea, and his cohort, Ryan Rydzfski, 27, of William Street, Pittston, were arrested this month for ransacking a house on Boland Avenue in Hanover Township and houses on Fulton and Butler streets in Pittston.
More than three years ago, Thomas targeted the houses of Timko, Fuller and Sierko, according to court records.
He only received probation, court records say.
“They should have locked him up and threw the key in the (Susquehanna) River,” Sierko said.
Timko said he sat in the Luzerne County Courtroom on March 28, 2012, when Thomas appeared before Judge Lisa Gelb.
Believing Thomas would be sent to state prison for a few years, Timko and Sierko said they were shocked and displeased that a probation sentence was imposed.
“We were not aware of the sentence or any type of plea agreement,” said Timko, who served as police chief for four years retiring in 1993. He was a township detective for 19 years before becoming police chief. “The (district attorney’s office) did not confer with me about any of it. I would have objected to the sentence and certainly would have objected to the concurrent sentences. I really feel the (district attorney’s office) let us down.”
Thomas appeared before Gelb on a host of charges, including resisting arrest, receiving stolen property and burglarizing the three men’s houses and a fourth home burglary in Avoca.
Without any objection from the district attorney’s office, Gelb sentenced Thomas to six to 12 months in jail on a second-degree misdemeanor of resisting arrest, first-degree misdemeanor of receiving stolen property and 18 to 36 months of special probation on four counts of burglary, each graded as a second-degree felony.
Gelb imposed the sentences to run at the same time rather than consecutively and gave Thomas 276 days time served in jail, according to court records.
‘Slap on wrist’
For Fuller and Sierko, the sentence was a “slap on the wrist.”
“I’m still not over it,” Fuller said about the break-in at his home in May 2011. “I can’t say anything bad about the police. They were truly outstanding. But I was floored over the leniency of the sentence. It certainly did not take into account the seriousness of all (Thomas’) crimes.”
Like Timko, Fuller said he was not consulted by the district attorney’s office about a plea agreement and sentence.
When Thomas was charged by police in Avoca and Jenkins and Plains townships, the burglaries were graded as a first-degree felony. At the preliminary hearing, the grading of the burglaries were lowered to second-degree felonies, a move Timko, Sierko and Fuller said they were not advised about.
“He should not have been on the street,” Sierko said.
Sierko said his home was burglarized six months after his wife Florence died. Thomas had stolen his wife’s engagement ring and wedding band that were eventually recovered and returned to him, Sierko said.
Court records say Thomas plundered the homes in 2011 to support a drug addiction. Arrest papers filed by Hanover Township police this past week allege Thomas traded items stolen from the Boland Avenue house for drugs.
The recent burglary charges is not all Thomas is facing.
When he allegedly ransacked the houses in Hanover Township and Pittston, he was free on $21,000 unsecured bail on unrelated cases involving a smash-and-grab at a department store, multiple vehicle break-ins in Duryea, Old Forge and Avoca, according to court records.
Thomas was free on $21,000 unsecured bail on three unrelated cases he is currently facing in county court.