AUGUSTA — An Augusta man who broke into multiple Augusta restaurants and stole an Apple iPad with a tracking device installed on it was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison after pleading guilty to burglary and theft charges.

John P. Cella, 54, pleaded guilty to two counts of burglary, three counts of theft and one count each of burglary of a motor vehicle and criminal mischief, for breaking into and taking items from The Oak Table on Water Street and Amazing Garden on Western Avenue.

John P. Cella

He also admitted in court Tuesday he had broken into or damaged four other Augusta restaurants: Downtown Diner, Augusta House of Pancakes, Otto’s on the River and Cushnoc Brewing Co.

In exchange for Cella’s guilty pleas, state prosecutors agreed to not prosecute him for the additional, uncharged crimes.

Cella was ordered to pay $250 in restitution to Downtown Diner, while the additional incidents might have factored into his three-year prison sentence.

Police responded to a report Aug. 10, 2019, of a burglary at Amazing Garden, where the door had been pried open and change and an iPad were taken. Officers learned the pink iPad had a tracking device installed in it, which indicated the device was at an apartment on Highland Avenue in Gardiner.

Later that month, police went to that apartment and spoke to a woman they said was Cella’s girlfriend, who turned over a pink iPad she said Cella had given her a couple of weeks before, according to Assistant District Attorney Tyler LeClair.

Police determined it was the same iPad that had been stolen from Amazing Garden. The girlfriend also said she had been given a laptop from Cella, which police determined was the same Toshiba laptop that had been reported stolen July 27, 2019, from a car in a Western Avenue parking lot.

One of the theft charges and one of the burglary charges stemmed from an Aug. 24, 2019, break-in at The Oak Table & Bar at 233 Water St. in Augusta.

A caller informed police there was a man walking on Pleasant Street carrying what was described as a safe box.

Police responded and found Cella holding a black cash drawer and bleeding. He told police he had found the cash drawer and had cut his leg jumping over a nearby picket fence.

Police could not locate any blood on the fence, according to LeClair.

The cash drawer was identified as belong to The Oak Table & Bar, and testing indicated blood at the scene matched Cella’s.

Cella also had glass shards in his shoes, according to court documents.

Cella’s lawyer, Pamela Ames of Waterville, and Judge Geoff Rushlau said Cella’s admission to the uncharged crimes was beneficial in that it allowed police to close those cases, and perhaps offered some closure to the business owners whose restaurants were targeted by Cella.

Those uncharged incidents involved burglary and theft from the Downtown Diner and criminal mischief at Augusta House of Pancakes, Otto’s and Cushnoc.

“Mr. Cella, what you’ve agreed to do is, here in open court, admit to involvement in these other crimes, with the understanding you will not be prosecuted,” Rushlau said. “That gives (the victims) some understanding and I think, to some extent, lets them move on with their lives.”

Cella said he has struggled with addiction to drugs and alcohol for long periods of his life, and attributed his criminal behavior, at least in part, to his having been in a five-year relapse after he previously quit using. He said he has since quit again.

“It’s a struggle every day,” he said, adding he had been sober for 100 days. “I’m hoping to go on with my life and continue my sobriety.”

Rushlau warned that when Cella gets out of prison in three years, he will not be on probation and will have to maintain his sobriety or he will likely end up back in court.

The most serious of the charges, the two burglary counts, were Class B offenses, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

“It’s going to have to come from within,” Rushlau told Cella of maintaining his sobriety. “As you know, when you’re not sober, you not only hurt yourself, you hurt other people through taking or damaging their property. If it happens again, you’ll be back in court. And you’ll probably go to jail for the longest-possible time because you can’t seem to control yourself.”

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