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Woman accused in burglary that led to locking of schools pleads not guilty

Irene McCormick, charged with aiding the man whose alleged Jan. 6 attempt to burglarize a house caused Lewiston-Porter schools to be locked, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in Niagara County Court.

McCormick, 30, of Ely Avenue, Niagara Falls, is accused of second-degree burglary for allegedly being the lookout and driver for Lee W. Gates, 36, of 23rd Street, Niagara Falls. Gates pleaded not guilty Monday to second-degree burglary and fourth-degree criminal mischief.

Deputy District Attorney Doreen M. Hoffmann said Gates was working for a Lewiston florist and had just made a delivery to Lew-Port Senior High School that was recorded on a surveillance camera before allegedly entering a house just north of the school on Creek Road.

Sheriff's deputies said the homeowner confronted the burglar in his basement, and he fled into some woods. Gates was captured a little over an hour later.

During the search, Lew-Port schools were locked to deny admittance to any visitors.

McCormick wasn't charged at the time, but she was arrested Jan. 11 on a prison contraband charge when she allegedly visited Gates in Niagara County Jail and attempted to slip him some crushed pills, Hoffmann said.

Meanwhile, McCormick's mother reported to Niagara Falls police that she had found two safes in her basement. Hoffman said one has been traced to a Town of Niagara business; the other hasn't been traced.

Hoffmann told Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza that she has reason to believe that more stolen property may have been stashed by McCormick in a rented storage unit.

After Hoffmann warned that allowing McCormick to go free might result in the disbursement of the allegedly stolen items, the judge set bail at $10,000.

Hoffmann said the investigation is continuing, including an effort to connect unsolved burglaries to Gates' deliveries in the flower shop's van. Hoffmann said Gates may have made it a practice to break into homes near delivery locations.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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