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Two get prison for stealing, selling city-owned tree grates

Two get prison for stealing, selling city-owned tree grates

Warren Ashburn and Charles Williams were each sentenced Wednesday to 1 1⁄2 to 3 years in state priso

One of the two men who admitted to participating in a scheme to take tens of thousands of dollars worth of metal tree grates from downtown Schenectady asked a judge for consideration in delaying restitution payments.

It was a request that Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago quickly denied.

“I can’t believe you would ask to defer these monies when, No. 1, you were intrusted by the city of Schenectady to do a job and you breached that trust,” Drago responded. “And now you don’t want to pay them back.”

A judgment totaling $24,000 was ordered as part of Warren Ashburn’s plea deal. Ashburn, 30, formerly of 109 Irving St., and Charles Williams, 34, formerly of 1111 Union St., were each sentenced Wednesday to 11⁄2 to 3 years in state prison.

They admitted to taking part in a brazen plan to steal large metal tree grates and other fixtures off city streets and sell them for scrap.

They each pleaded guilty earlier to fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property. Ashburn also pleaded guilty to third-degree grand larceny.

The two men are both former employees of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp. In all, they were accused of taking tens of thousands of dollars in the grates, taking them under cover of their uniforms.

They were also believed to have used the corporation’s Bobcat forklift, which they had access to, to move the heavy grates, prosecutor have said. By using the forklift, the two appeared to be doing routine maintenance when in reality they were committing theft, prosecutors have said.

Some of the thefts came during work hours, while others came on weekends.

In her comments to both Ashburn and Williams, Drago indicated she shouldn’t have to be making such comments to individuals in their 30s.

“I don’t think the court has to tell you that you can’t steal,” Drago told Williams.

As part of their sentence, the two agreed to be responsible for a total of $24,000 in restitution.

Ashburn’s attorney, Lauren Mack, asked Drago to delay filing a judgment against Ashburn until his release from prison, citing his status as indigent. The move, had it been granted, apparently would have staved off automatic payments from his inmate account.

Authorities have estimated the total value of the cast-iron tree grates taken at more than $70,000. The two apparently sold them at a fraction of their worth.

Ashburn left the corporation Oct. 1, 2010, after about a year of employment, officials said. Williams worked with the corporation until March, leaving soon after the thefts were discovered.

The thefts were discovered after a viewer of CBS6 tipped off the station and the station relayed the information to police. The viewer sent information that tree grates were at T.A. Predel and Co., a scrap yard off Edison Avenue.

In all, 67 sets of grates and 13 more vertical tree cages were missing. Just 16 grates weighed in excess of 6,300 pounds. Each set cost the city $1,116 to replace.

The men are accused of selling those 16 for a scrap price that totaled $893.20, according to papers filed in court.

Just more than half of the grates were recovered at Predel. Scrap yard records indicate the two were the only ones recycling the grates.

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