Pair sentenced to prison for vehicle break-ins
Jul 31, 2012 (Reading Eagle - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
A Berks County judge has sentenced a man and woman to prison after they admitted to breaking into more than 100 vehicles in parking lots at shopping centers and recreation areas in Berks and three other counties to steal money, gift cards and laptop computers.
Judge Scott D. Keller ordered Frank Howe, 44, to serve 42 months to seven years in state prison followed by 10 years of probation.
Keller ordered Samantha A. Kochel, 27, to serve 11 1/2 to 23 months in the county prison followed by 10 years of probation.
The couple, who were arrested on Dec. 22 in a Wyomissing hotel where they were living at the time, pleaded guilty to theft from a vehicle, access device fraud and related offenses in Berks, Montgomery, Chester and Lancaster counties.
According to court records:
Kochel would drive Howe around to parking lots of shopping centers, gyms, parks and athletic fields during the day looking for purses and laptops in unoccupied vehicles.
Howe would use a spring-loaded center punch to shatter a side window to avoid opening the door and possibly setting off an alarm. He would grab a purse or laptop and get into Kochel's waiting car.
The pair would take any money and gift cards and toss the purses along the road.
Police eventually identified Howe from a fingerprint found last summer on the window of a victim's car in the parking lot of Leesport Farmers Market. They later learned he was with Kochel, who formerly worked for a Reading bail bonds firm.
As the break-ins spread from Berks to surrounding areas, detectives from police departments in the affected counties organized a detail to try to find them.
Police arrested Howe and Kochel in the Wyomissing hotel after learning from Kochel's mother that they were living there.
Authorities found a three-ring binder containing 96 gift cards, organized by type, in the plastic sleeves of the binder.
The pair used stolen gift cards and money -- along with money they got by pawning jewelry, laptops and other items stolen from vehicles -- to buy heroin and pay their living expenses.
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