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Second ‘pillowcase bandit’ headed to prison

GREENFIELD — One half of the self-described “pillowcase bandit” duo received a state prison sentence of four to eight years after pleading guilty to 18 charges related to a string of local break-ins.

Aaron Provencher, 33, of 389 Unity Ave., Athol, was sentenced to state prison in Walpole Friday in Franklin Superior Court, with credit for 313 days served while awaiting resolution. Charges were four counts of breaking and entering in the daytime for a felony, four counts of larceny over $250, four counts of vandalism, three counts of receiving stolen property over $250, and three counts of conspiracy.

The break-ins occurred in November and December of 2012, in several towns in Franklin, Hampshire and Worcester counties.

Provencher previously owned an Athol pawn shop called “The Spot.” When selling stolen goods to a Gardner pawn shop, Provencher wrote fake receipts from The Spot, to cover his tracks and receive a higher dealer-to-dealer amount for the items.

Judge John Agostini said he thinks it likely that Provencher will have future brushes with the law.

“I’d be betting that (Provencher) would be back in trouble when he gets out, if I were a betting man,” said Agostini, noting a criminal record he called “moderate to significant.”

Prosecuting attorney Jeremy Bucci recommended a sentence of five to seven years in state prison, followed by two years of probation.

“It will offer the defendant the possibility to grow over a period of time, while he faces the demons that he has,” said Bucci. “It might be just the thing to keep him on the straight-and-narrow.”

Agostini instead imposed the four to eight year sentence, stating that he did not believe Provencher was a good candidate for probation.

If released before serving eight years, said Agostini, Provencher would likely find himself on parole. Agostini said it was pointless to have Provencher monitored by both parole and probation.

“The advantage of parole (over probation) is that we wouldn’t have to bring him back to court,” the judge explained. “He would go back to prison to serve the full sentence.”

If he had to answer to a violation of probation in court, it could be a lengthy process, said Agostini.

Antonio Velez, 28, of 24 Carlin St., Athol, previously pleaded guilty to similar charges, and was sentenced to three to four years in the Walpole state prison, followed by four years’ probation. Unlike Provencher, Velez had no prior criminal history.

Bucci outlined the investigation into Provencher and his partner.

Victims would return home to find that their houses had been ransacked during the day. In most cases, jewelry, cash, and small valuables were taken, carried away in the victims’ own pillowcases.

“It was very emotional for the victims to come home and learn that they’d been burglarized for no reason other than that they’d decided to go to work that day,” Bucci said.

Athol police, as well as state police, the Northwestern Anti-Crime Task Force, and area police departments put their heads together to develop suspects and crack the case.

At one point, state police discovered an abandoned car, owned by Velez’s mother, in a rest area with its plates removed. The car was impounded and searched, and found to contain items from two of the burglaries.

A large safe was taken in a Sept. 5, 2012, robbery, containing mostly jewelry and personal papers. It was later recovered by state police divers, in the waters below the Branch Bridge in Athol.

Police tailed the two to a New Salem break-in, and observed them throwing unwanted, stolen items out of the moving vehicle afterward.

A subsequent search warrant turned up several other stolen items in Provencher’s residence.

Last year, area police held an “evidence fair” in the Athol Town Hall, where victims were invited to help identify the recovered items.

Provencher’s lawyer, Alan Rubin, said his client stole to support heroin and cocaine habits. Rubin said his client picked these habits up after receiving prescription painkillers for a back injury.

“The prescriptions ran out, but the pain did not, and he turned to street drugs,” Rubin said.

He said Provencher was “desperate,” and has since shown remorse for his actions.

“Despite what he did, he is a family man,” argued Rubin, pointing out that Provencher has two children, has been with their mother for 15 years, and intends to marry her. She watched the proceedings from the rear of the courtroom Friday.

Though victims have received closure on the case, their losses remain. Many of the stolen items were not recovered.

You can reach David Rainville at: drainville@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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