Austin Hartl, one of Buffalo's most notorious graffiti vandals, must report to work today to begin removing all the damage he and his cohorts have caused to commercial and private buildings across the city.
Erie County Judge Michael F. Pietruszka spared Hartl, 18, of Clarence a jail term that Buffalo police had recommended. But in a widely praised decision, he ordered Hartl to begin 720 hours of community service with the Mayor's Impact Team.
The judge told him he will be on court-supervised probation for the next five years and ordered him to perform at least 30 hours of work a month for the Impact Team until he completes his community service. He also granted Hartl youthful offender status.
The judge told Hartl that his jailing would have inflicted more costs on local taxpayers. Instead, the judge crafted a sentence so "you can understand the seriousness of what you've done, and the community can benefit as well."
The judge also warned Hartl he faces jail time if he associates with other graffiti vandals.
Hartl, who works and is a first-year business major at Erie Community College, turned over to the judge a check for $1,540.75 to cover the damage he caused to six West Side properties hours before his arrest last Feb. 20.
Although Hartl's attorney, Robert N. Convissar, said his client does not have a drug or alcohol problem, the judge also ordered Hartl to submit to substance abuse testing and treatment if necessary.
Convissar told the judge Hartl comes from a "good family," has received professional counseling since his arrest and developed "a new prospective on how wrong and really stupid what he did was."
Convissar also told the judge Hartl has accepted responsibility for his criminal contribution to blight in the community.
In court for the midmorning sentencing, Thomas M. Smith, head of the Mayor's Impact Team, told the judge Hartl will be doing a wide range of manual labor, including work on the city's now-forming Graffiti Removal Program.
The Buffalo Police Department identified Hartl as one of the city's most notorious graffiti vandals and sought a 90-day jail term.
But Lt. Sam Lunetta of the Buffalo State College police lauded the judge's work-oriented sentence for the graffiti vandal.
Lunetta, an acclaimed graffiti expert assigned to the graffiti task force, said graffiti "is vandalism, not artwork, that hurts the community."
Buffalo police accused Hartl of using spray paint and black markers to "tag" hundreds of city properties over the past year.
Prosecutor Mara Caerleon Leighbody said Police Officers Shawn Adams and Patrick Humiston were investigating graffiti tagging on Niagara Street when they arrested Hartl.
The officers took from Hartl four cans of spray paint, a mask and marker. He admitted that he had used the paint to "tag" a nearby food store, Leighbody said.