The career criminal who was caught burglarizing a Rotterdam pizza shop after getting stuck in the duct system avoided a sentence of up to life in prison Tuesday.
Instead, admitted burglar Timothy Cipriani of Schenectady was sentenced to a total of 3.5 to 7 years in state prison in connection with the 2011 break-in.
At issue in Tuesday morning’s sentencing was whether Cipriani’s criminal history, which almost exclusively consists of non-violent business break-ins representing six felony convictions, made him eligible for a much tougher sentence of up to 25 years to life in state prison.
Had Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago found him to be a persistent felon, the sentence was to be the minimum, 15 years to life.
While not discounting Cipriani’s criminal history, Drago found that a sentence equivalent to a murder conviction was too great.
Instead, Drago called on the state Legislature to give judges more flexibility in sentencing persistent nonviolent offenders.
“To be clear, this is not because I feel that leniency should be afforded you given your actions,” Drago told Cipriani. “But I do feel the law in its present form is inadequate to address these types of situations.”
Drago’s sentence came after prosecutor William Sanderson made a lengthy argument that Cipriani was eligible for and deserved a sentence of up to life in state prison. Sanderson argued that Cipriani viewed the standard 3.5- to 7-year sentence simply as the cost of doing business.
Sanderson argued that the persistent felon statute was designed to target repeat low-level offenders like Cipriani. Sanderson cited 22 small business all burglarized by Cipriani since 1992. Many of those, Sanderson noted, are out of business now, the burglary being one more obstacle placed in their way.
“This person poses a great danger to this community, particularly small businesses that struggle to survive in this community,” Sanderson told Drago.
Both Cipriani’s attorney and Cipriani himself also made arguments. His attorney, Lauren Mack, argued that she could find no similar cases with an individual convicted of only nonviolent crimes being sentenced as a persistent felon.
Cipriani appeared contrite in his latest sentencing, saying he in no way takes pride in what he has done. If he could go back and take back his actions, he would, he told the judge.
“Unfortunately, I can’t,” Cipriani told the court. “I’m at the mercy of the court right now to determine what my fate is.”
Cipriani pleaded guilty in November 2011 to felony burglary, admitting he burglarized Paesan’s Pizza on Guilderland Avenue on March 18, 2011. The sentencing was delayed by several factors, including attorneys preparing their arguments and gathering documents.
Cipriani’s identity as the burglar was never in doubt. In the process of breaking in, he got stuck in the pizzeria’s duct work. Evidence photos of him dangling from the ducts were disseminated widely in news stories over the Internet.
Cipriani’s guilty plea left open what his final sentence would be. He brokered the deal directly with Drago.
Prosecutors had offered a set sentence of 15 years to life in prison, based on Cipriani’s lengthy criminal history, which includes convictions in five similar burglary cases dating back to 1992, some with multiple victims.
Offenders who are judged to be persistent felons face up to 25 years to life, with the minimum being 15 years to life. They generally become eligible for that status on their third felony conviction, though for nonviolent offenders it’s not automatic.