A man tied to one of the largest stockpiles of stolen goods in recent memory in Butte will spend an additional five years in custody of the Montana Department of Corrections after he’s done serving prison time for previous crimes.
On Wednesday, District Judge Robert Whelan sentenced 39-year-old Frank Rueben Medina of Butte to 10 years in DOC custody, with five suspended, for a burglary authorities pinned on him because of DNA from Coca-Cola cans left at the scene.
Medina was sentenced in September 2018 to five years in the Montana State Prison on unrelated drug and theft charges, the latter involving a stolen ATV, before new burglary charges were filed early this year.
He pleaded guilty to burglary in the latest case as part of a plea agreement, which called for five years in DOC custody after the current prison term is up. Whelan agreed to that but tacked on five years of a suspended sentence on top of it.
That means Medina, when he’s done serving direct time, will be subject to numerous probation terms for another five years. If he “steps out of line,” as Whelan put it, he could be sent to prison to serve that time.
Whelan said Medina’s criminal past warranted the additional suspended sentence.
“There have been a number of felonies in the past three years that are substantial,” he said.
Because Whelan went beyond the plea deal, he gave Medina an opportunity to withdraw his earlier guilty plea. But after a quick, whispered discussion with his attorney, Victor Bunitsky, Medina stuck to the guilty plea and Whelan imposed the sentence.
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Police found enough stolen goods at a house Medina had been staying at in 2017 to “fill an entire U-Haul truck,” prosecutors said, but they couldn’t tie some of them to a specific burglary until they got DNA results.
“It’s the largest stash of goods I have seen, and I’ve been doing this for 32 years,” Undersheriff George Skuletich said early this year, when a burglary charge was filed in the case.
Some of the stolen goods found belonged to a man whose house on the East Ridge was broken into in October 2016. Numerous items were taken, including a wall safe with $2,800 in cash and numerous rifles and handguns.
A gallon of Sunny D citrus juice had been opened and left on the counter and a case of Coca-Cola cans also was taken. The house is fairly isolated and police found ATV tracks nearby as well as two empty Coke cans.
The juice container and Coke cans were sent to the State Crime Lab for analysis and in September 2018, a judge signed a search warrant for a cheek swab from Medina, who was in jail at the time. The swabs were “statistically similar” to the Coke cans and prosecutors filed the burglary charge.
Prosecutors were seeking nearly $11,000 in restitution from Medina but Bunitsky said insurance would cover much of the costs. They plan to discuss the matter further and agree on a restitution amount.
Medina was also charged in a separate burglary in 2018 but prosecutors dismissed that case Wednesday.