Two parolees will serve as many as 17 years between them for a string of burglaries they committed across the South Fork, including in the Barnes Hole Association area of East Hampton, in 2011.
Charles C. Durant, 32, and Chris I. Williams, 25, pretended to be conducting a political survey as a way to see if houses were occupied. The subject of their bogus poll if someone answered the door? Osama bin Laden and whether Donald Trump should make a bid for president, according to the Suffolk County District attorney's office said.
In County Criminal Court on Friday, Durant was sentenced to up to 10 years and Williams received up to 7 years in state prison for stealing jewelry, gold, silver, electronics and other items within the East Hampton Town, Southampton Town, and Southampton Village police jurisdictions.
In November, the pair took deals and each pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary in the third-degree and criminal possession of stolen property in the third degree, all felonies. The deal covers numerous charges from indictment
Durant received 2 1/2 to 5 years for each burglary count, to run consecutively, and 2 to 4 years on the stolen property charge, which will concurrently. Meanwhile, Williams agreed to a sentence of 3 1/2 to 7 years on each burglary count and 2 to 4 years on the stolen property, all of which will run concurrently.
East Hampton Town police were investigating seven burglaries reported in the Barnes Hole Association area in May 2011, when a witness to the burglaries provided police with the license plate number for a 2007 Nissan that belonged to Williams.
A few days later, police received a call about two suspicious men in the Inkberry Road neighborhood. Williams and Durant were on bicycles and knocking on doors, police said at the time. They claimed to be canvasing for a political survey.
"That was the modus operandi of this pair in casing homes, specifically identifying what they believed to be unoccupied houses," Robert Clifford, a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, said.
A computer check showed the men were on parole and had been selling items at pawn shops on Long Island. Detectives set up interviews with Williams and Durant through their parole officers, meeting them at the State Parole Office in Bohemia.
The men consented to a search of their home in Bellport, and Williams consented to a search of his vehicle, where police found multiple stolen items from the burglaries.
During further questioning, police connected Williams and Durant to a burglary on Marion Lane in Springs in April, as well.
Since their arrest, they have been held at the county jail in Riverside on $250,000 cash bail.
Both defendants were on parole for previous felonies and extra time may be added onto each of their sentences for the parole violations.
Durant was convicted on burglary, assault, and auto theft charges in 2004, and he was sentenced to 6 to 8 years. After serving just over 6 years, he was released on parole in November 2010, according to State Department of Corrections records. He had previously served about 4 years on an attempted burglary, which he was paroled on in 2003, records show.
In March 2007, Williams was sentenced to up to 3 years on an attempted robbery. Records show he was released on parole in August 2010.
Williams did not say anything at his sentencing, though his attorney, John Halverson, of Patchogue, asked the district attorney to release the bank-owned Nissan that had been impounded.
Durant's attorney, Bryan Browns, who is with the Legal Aid Society, requested that the corrections department take into account that Durant is not a violent felony offender and that he would be entitled to any and all programs available while serving time. "He's been in the foster care since he was 5 — he's essentially grown up in the prison system," Browns said.
He told Judge Richard Ambro that Durant is "extremely intelligent."
"I think there's a lot of hope since he's only 32 years old," he said, adding that his client will be 42 when released. "He's certainly got a whole life ahead of him."
Asked if he wanted to speak, Durant told the judge: "Change is my motto." After being placed on parole he tried to do right, enrolling to get his bachelor's degree, but, he said, "certain circumstances" led him down a more familiar road.
"Only you can truly affect change," Ambro said. "Good luck."