AUGUSTA — A serial burglar who amassed “a mountain of merchandise” by returning time and again to prey on property on the same roads in Fayette, Mount Vernon, Wayne and elsewhere in Kennebec County was sentenced to a decade in prison on Tuesday.

Justin Ross, 37, of Wayne and formerly of Ellsworth, pleaded guilty to 92 crimes, mostly burglary, theft and criminal mischief, and he admitted violating probation in Franklin County. For all those crimes and for uncharged burglaries and thefts in Androscoggin and Franklin counties, Ross was ordered to serve 10 years in prison and to pay restitution of more than $75,000 for the items stolen and the damage he caused taking them.

Only one of the dozens of victims of Ross’s crimes watched the hearing in Kennebec County Superior Court in the new Capital Judicial Center.

Justice Robert Mullen read aloud a statement Brian Holman, of Fayette, had submitted in writing about the effect of the Aug. 31, 2013, crime on him and about the grief and hardship Ross had caused to all the victims, including him.

Holman said the effects of Ross’s crime spree included loss of family heirlooms, costs for installation of security systems, increases in homeowners’ insurance premiums and suspicions about people, including neighbors.

“Your life has taken a bad turn,” Holman told Ross in the letter. “Now you’ll have plenty of time to straighten it out.”

Holman had yet to recover any of his stolen items, and he brought a list of them to court, addressed to an investigating officer.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is what was taken although I will truly never know what else was taken until I need it down the road and will not be able to find it,” Holman wrote.

The list included an air compressor, an engine hoist, a 150-horsepower outboard motor, a water pump, copper scrap, small electrical tools, hand tools and other items.

Holman said he did not get notified of a November 2013 opportunity for victims of the crimes to retrieve their belongings. At that time, officers filled a garage bay at the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office with the items seized from a shedlike home in Wayne shortly after they arrested Ross in late October 2013. At the time of the seizure, Chief Deputy Ryan Reardon described it as “a mountain of merchandise,” which forced authorities to bring a U-Haul truck and a 16-foot trailer to haul it away.

According to the indictment, the items were reported stolen Aug. 12 through Nov. 2, 2013, from homes, camps and garages of property in Belgrade, Fayette, Mount Vernon, Vienna, Wayne and Winthrop. Ross also pleaded guilty to an Oct. 3, 2013, burglary and theft in Smithfield in Somerset County. At the time of those crimes, Ross was on probation for a forgery conviction in Franklin County and had 40 months remaining on that sentence.

The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Joelle Pratt, told the judge that victims could receive some restitution.

“Once Mr. Ross gets out from serving, he’s able-bodied and able to work as far as the state has understood,” she said.

Pratt listed many of the stolen items, saying Ross and a codefendant, Rebecca Lee, 40, of Wayne, indicted on the same 90 charges in Kennebec County as Ross, stole chain saws, motors, mini-bikes, all-terrain vehicles, snowmobiles, helmets, copper, power tools, light fixtures, alcohol, comforters, blankets, televisions, pressure washers, baseball cards, board games and a child’s metal lunchbox. In some places, Pratt said, the couple had to make several trips to remove all the items. She said Ross’s DNA was found on a cigarette dropped at a crime scene and that Ross and/or Lee had confessed to all of them.

She told the judge that charges against Lee remain pending, but she expected the state would recommend a lighter sentence for Lee because she had no prior criminal record.

The spate of crimes came to a halt when someone recorded the license plate number of an unfamiliar vehicle in a neighboring driveway on Mountain Road in Vienna. When police traced it to the owner’s address in Wayne, they spotted a distinctive item that had been stolen: a metal Madonna lunchbox.

“Some of the stuff was recovered; a lot was not,” Pratt said.

Mullen told Ross, “You’re going to have more felonies on your record than anyone I can remember” and warned him that committing similar crimes in the future probably would earn Ross the maximum punishment.

“I won’t be,” Ross told him.

Ross made headlines in 2012 when he walked away from a work-release site in Leeds while serving a sentence for domestic-violence assault and living at the now-closed Central Maine Pre-Release Center in Hallowell.

Ross said he was released from jail in June 2013, acquired a roofing job and met Lee, who became his girlfriend. Ross said she had an opiate addiction and soon he did too.

“I allowed myself to get sucked into that,” he said. Ross said he had been an addict 13 years earlier.

“You do horrible things,” he said. “My kids are suffering and going through this ordeal. I embarrassed my family. I embarrassed myself.”

He said he intended to make restitution and hoped to get a job as a welder when he got out.

“I’m just sorry all this happened to everybody,” Ross said. “I’m going to do my best to pay this when I get out.”

Mullen said he would accept the sentencing recommendation of Pratt and defense attorney Lisa Whittier because Ross confessed to most of the crimes shortly after his arrest and because he opted to plead guilty rather than go to trial.

Mullen also said he took into account that probation has not worked for Ross.

“The real proof in the pudding will be when you get out if you make your first (restitution) payment to the district attorney’s office,” Mullen said.

Mullen set a hearing for Nov. 11, 2024, for Ross to return to court and set up a restitution payment schedule.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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