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24 burglaries result in 11-year prison sentence

Lee W. Gates, a flower deliveryman who committed a total of 24 burglaries last winter, including one that resulted in the Lewiston-Porter schools being locked during classes, was sentenced Thursday to 11 years in prison.

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Sperrazza imposed the sentence for two felony counts -- second-degree and attempted second-degree burglary -- to which Gates, 37, of 23rd Street, Niagara Falls, had pleaded guilty in May.

The plea bargain included a 12-year limit on sentencing. "The defendant deserves every bit of those 12 years," Assistant District Attorney Laura T. Bittner argued.

But Sperrazza trimmed a year because Gates had helped the Niagara County Sheriff's Office wrap up several unsolved burglaries and tried to recover some of the stolen property.

Assistant Public Defender Christopher A. Privateer said Gates became addicted to painkillers after undergoing back surgery and turned to crime after his money was gone.

"It's clear from the probation report that Mr. Gates was involved in these activities because of his drug habit," Privateer said.

Most of Gates' burglaries were break-ins at commercial storage units, Privateer argued. Others were at businesses.

But they included at least two home break-ins, including one Jan. 6 at a Creek Road house next to the Lew-Port campus that led the administration to lock the buildings while police searched for the burglar.

"The victim of a house burglary doesn't care if the perpetrator was drunk, high or sober," Sperrazza said. "The point is, it's a feeling of invasion they have to live with for the rest of their lives."

When he pleaded guilty, Gates was believed responsible for 17 burglaries -- two in Niagara Falls, seven in the Town of Niagara and eight in Wheatfield -- but the number grew after his interviews with an investigator.

The lookout in the Creek Road case, Irene L. McCormick, 30, of Sabre Park, Town of Niagara, pleaded guilty in April to attempted second-degree burglary and was admitted to the judicial diversion program of court-supervised drug treatment.