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Addiction in Franklin County

Alleged ‘Pillowcase Bandits’ arraigned

NORTHAMPTON — Two Athol men who allegedly referred to themselves as the “Pillowcase Bandits” pleaded not guilty Tuesday in Northampton Superior Court to 26 counts each in relation to seven burglaries in five towns.

A Franklin County grand jury Friday returned identical indictments against Aaron Provencher, 34, of 389 Unity Ave. and Antonio Velez, also know as Antwon, 27, of 24 Carlin St.

The two are charged in relation to three burglaries in Athol and one each in New Salem, Petersham, Russell and Hardwick from September to December of last year in which over $30,000 in jewelry, medication, cash and other items were reported stolen, according to a summary filed by Assistant District Attorney Jeremy Bucci in support of bail.

Bucci said the two stole to finance a drug habit and two individuals who have cooperated with police testified Provencher and Velez called themselves the “Pillowcase Bandits” due to a style they developed.

Bucci said they would break into a home in the daytime while the residents were away, take a pillowcase from the bedroom, fill it with jewelry and other small items and leave in under five minutes.

Bucci said Provencher until sometime last year owned an Athol pawn shop, The Spot, and wrote fake receipts for stolen items to make it appear as though they were received in the usual way before selling them to another pawn shop.

The two would return directly from a sale to Athol or Orange to purchase heroin or cocaine, which they would then smoke or inject, Bucci said.

Each is charged with four counts of breaking and entering in the daytime to commit a felony, four counts of larceny over $250, four counts of larceny from a building, four counts of vandalism, seven counts of receiving stolen property over $250 and three counts of conspiracy.

The investigation was conducted by the Athol Police Department and multiple local police departments in Franklin and Worcester counties and State Police, Bucci said.

Evidence linking the two to various of the burglaries was found in searches of a car belonging to Velez’s mother that Velez and Provencher abandoned at a rest stop, Provencher’s residence and a vehicle an unidentified third party used to drive the two to the Hardwick break-in, according to Bucci.

Bucci said some of the items recovered were identified by their owners at an open house of stolen property held by police in Athol in January.

At that event, Randall Matthews of Orange described a burglary of his family’s home in October following the same pattern described in court Tuesday.

While recently in discussion, the pillowcase approach does not appear to be entirely uncommon.

In 2010 a Greenfield man police dubbed the “Pillowcase Bandit” for the habit of bagging his loot in his victims’ pillowcases admitted to more than 30 burglaries in Greenfield and was sentenced to a total of 12 to 15 years in state prison.

Judge Mary-Lou Rup ordered Provencher held on $100,000 cash bail or $1 million surety, the prosecutor’s request, with no argument from Provencher’s court-appointed attorney.

John Haymond, Velez’s court-appointed lawyer, argued that his client’s role as presented in police reports appeared to be tangential to many of the events, his strong family ties mean he is not a flight risk and the $50,000 bail requested by Bucci was far beyond what Velez’s family could afford.

Rup ordered Velez held on $30,000 bail or $300,000 surety. The two are next due to appear June 4 for a pre-trial hearing in Franklin Superior Court in Greenfield.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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