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Massachusetts man arrested after weekend crime spree

May 20, 2009
GORHAM — Police arrested James Berk, 27, of Middleton, Mass., on Sunday after police said he broke into several vehicles parked at trailheads on U.S. Route 16 and burglarized Moe's Variety and Dunkin' Donuts in Gorham. Mr. Berk was charged with two counts of burglary, three counts of criminal mischief, one count of theft from a motor vehicle, and one count of possession of controlled drugs. His bail was set at $22,000.

Gorham Police Chief P.J. Cyr said that sometime between 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday morning someone broke into three cars, two parked at the Stony Brook trailhead and one parked near the Peabody River bridge.

Break ins are common at the start of the summer season, Chief Cyr said, but then sometime either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning someone also broke into the Gorham Dunkin' Donuts.

"He used a hatchet to smash through the door," Chief Cyr said. About $1,300 was stolen, two doors were broken and a file cabinet was forced open in the burglary.

The suspect was caught on video, said Brian Cabana, Dunkin' Donuts assistant manager, as was his vehicle.

Around the same time someone broke into Moe's Variety at the intersection of Routes 2 and16. They broke the back door and stole nearly 100 scratch tickets.

There was no money in the cash register at the time, said Moe Champoux, owner of Moe's Variety. The drawer is left open and empty every night, he said, so all the burglar got was the scratch tickets and the recording equipment for his security camera. Still, he said, that was $580 of merchandise plus damage, not including the VCR.

"We alerted all the convenience stores in the area," Chief Cyr said, on a hunch the perpetrator might try to redeem some of the scratch tickets.

One by one convenience stores along Route 16 reported that a man in his mid-20s driving a light colored vehicle with Massachusetts license plates was redeeming scratch tickets.

One of the store clerks said they thought the man was heading south, Chief Cyr said, so the police contacted the Bartlett Police to be on the lookout for the suspect. Around 11 a.m. police pulled over Mr. Berk near Wildcat Ski Area and detained him. The police obtained a search warrant for Mr. Berk's vehicle that evening. In the search they found scratch tickets, money, items reported stolen from the vehicles parked at the trailheads, and marijuana.

While searching the sides of the road for evidence police discovered a .22 caliber rifle they suspect may also be tied to Mr. Berk, Chief Cyr said. The State Police are investigating if there is a connection between the rifle, which was stolen from a home in Mason, and Mr. Berk, he said.

Mr. Berk's bail hearing was at 12:30 p.m. on Monday. He wore handcuffs and ankle shackles, and he started to cry when he walked into the court room.

"I'm sorry," he said to his family as they gathered around him in the minutes before Judge James Michalik entered. "I screwed up so much."

Judge Michalik advised Mr. Berk of his rights then read the charges against him.

Gorham prosecutor Jennifer Lemoine and State Trooper Jay Stephens represented the State. Mr. Berk did not have a lawyer. Judge Michalik said one could be appointed for him, but he said no, he would hire his own lawyer.

The charges against Mr. Berk include two class A felonies, two class B felonies and three class A misdemeanors. If convicted he could be sentenced to 15 years in prison and a $4,000 fine per class A felony and seven years in prison and a $2,000 fine per class B felony. Mr. Berk was not allowed to enter a plea for the felony charges, but he entered "not guilty" pleas for each of the misdemeanor charges.

The judge set bail at $22,000 cash or bond and set additional parameters for Mr. Berk's bail. Mr. Berk must stay away from both Dunkin' Donuts and Moe's Variety, refrain using drugs or alcohol, stay away from firearms and sign a waiver of extradition.

Mr. Berk protested the bail amount.

"I didn't do anything to hurt anyone," he said.

Judge Michalik did not change the amount. Mr. Berk's court date is May 26 for the felony charges and June 23 for the misdemeanor charges.

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