Man complains about harsh sentence in crime-theft ring

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - One of four people accused in a multi-county crime ring that stole everything from gasoline to utility trailers lashed out at his attorney and a Kent County judge Wednesday for a sentence he said "just ain't right.''

"I shouldn't be sentenced to that much. It ain't fair,'' Marcus John Coates told Kent County Circuit Court Judge George Buth Wednesday.

He also complained that his defense attorney told him he'd only have to serve a little more than 3 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty to conducting a criminal enterprise, a felony punishable by 20 years.

Sentencing guidelines called for a minimum term of between 3 ¾ and 6 ¼ years in prison, Buth explained.

In asking the judge to sentence Coates at the low end of guidelines, defense attorney Terese Paletta noted that her client cooperated with investigators and led them to some of the stolen property.

"He was living with these folks who convinced him to participate,'' Paletta said. "It is his first felony and a lot of the items stolen were recovered.''

The judge, noting Coates' lack of prior felony convictions and his cooperation with investigators, sentenced him to between 3 ¾ and 20 years in prison.

Coates wasn't satisfied. As he was led from the courtroom in shackles, he told the judge "this ain't right, man.''

He also said he fears for his safety after word got out that he was going to testify against his co-defendant, Jeffrey Pardee. He said he was told that when he got into prison, "somebody was gonna kill me,'' Coates told the court.

Coates is one of four people linked to a six-month crime spree in Kent, Ottawa, Allegan and Barry counties. Pardee, 43, was charged with 13 felony counts. He pleaded guilty last month to conducting a criminal enterprise and awaits sentencing.

Police say the group is responsible for at least 28 larcenies of gas and diesel fuel beginning in October. Gas was siphoned from holding tanks and from truck fuel tanks. In at least nine cases, fuel was siphoned or pumped and on 16 occasions, thieves used a drill to puncture the tank and drain gas.

Surveillance video showed a white minivan involved in the thefts. In February, Grand Rapids police stopped a white minivan and the driver was arrested for operating on a suspended license.

Officers noted the van smelled heavily of fuel and there was a large gas tank that took up most of the back passenger compartment. Officers also saw a drill with a large drill bit in the back of the van.

The van belonged to Pardee, but he was not driving it at the time. Police began watching the vehicle and followed Pardee late the night of March 13.

Police watched as he stole gasoline from a van by drilling a hole in the gas tank. Pardee then moved on to a dump truck and was arrested while siphoning gasoline, according to court documents.

Police linked him to thefts at CSX property on Freeman Avenue SW, the theft of gas and a fuel pump on West River Drive NE and the theft of numerous tools, including drills and drill bits from a business on Century Avenue SW.

In addition to taking at least 600 gallons of fuel, police say they are responsible for stealing more than $60,000 in property, including a utility trailer at the Family Farm and Home store on Plainfield Avenue NE.

A search of Pardee's home on Lincoln Avenue south of Leonard Street NW turned up property taken in two burglaries, including $27,000 in lawn tractors and garden equipment from the Family Farm and Home store.


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