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Two sentenced for car break-ins in national forest

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U.S. District Judge Martin Reidinger sentenced David Duane Banchetto, 43, of Gastonia, to 36 months in prison and three years of supervised release for his role in a series of car break-ins at Pisgah National Forest, announced R. Andrew Murray, United States Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Banchetto was also ordered to pay restitution to all the victims for the costs of the vehicle repairs and for the value of the property that was stolen.
Greg Wiest, Acting Special Agent in Charge of ICE/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Georgia and the Carolinas and Sheriff David A. Mahoney of the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office join U.S. Attorney Murray in making today’s announcement.
According to court documents and today’s sentencing hearing, Banchetto and co- defendants, Elija Antwon Hope, Heather Nicole Postell, Montzerrath Tello-Aguilar and Kaleb Alexander Weaver engaged in a scheme to break into cars at Pisgah National Forest, to steal credit cards, debit cards and other items from vehicles parked in the area. Court records show that on June 29, 2017, law enforcement began to receive reports of multiple vehicle break-ins in that area. In the days that followed, at least five vehicle breaking and entering cases had been reported. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement recovered surveillance videos and pictures from local businesses where the stolen credit/debit cards had been used. On July 16, 2017, law enforcement arrested the five co-conspirators after a suspicious vehicle was reported in an area of Pisgah National Forest. According to court records, law enforcement determined that Banchetto was the person responsible for breaking out the windows of the vehicles from which the items were stolen. On November 22, 2017, Banchetto pleaded guilty to destruction of property on national lands.
Tello-Aquilar was previously sentenced to six months in prison and two years of supervised release. The remaining three co-defendants, Hope, Postell and Weaver, are currently awaiting sentencing.
In announcing today’s sentence Judge Reidinger referred to the national forests and parks of the Western District of North Carolina as “national treasure” and property of all citizens, noting that these types of crimes deter people from coming and enjoying them.

The Transylvania Sheriff’s Office and HSI led the investigation.
In a separate case, Judge Reidinger also sentenced today Mack Blaine Whittle, 32, of Anderson, S.C., to 33 months in prison and three years of supervised release for a series of car break-ins at Pisgah National Forest and the Blue Ridge Parkway in June 2017. Whittle was also ordered to pay restitution to the victims for the costs of the vehicle repairs and for the value of the property he stole. According to court records, Whittle broke into parked vehicles, stealing cash, debit cards and other items, including a firearm. Over the course of the investigation, law enforcement determined that Whittle had attempted to pawn unsuccessfully some of the stolen items, including the firearm. Law enforcement also determined that Whittle had a prior conviction and was prohibited from possessing a firearm. Whittle’s co-defendant, Lisha Nicole Minor, admitted that she had been with Whittle when the vehicle break-ins occurred, and that she had been using her cell phone to look up the values of some of the stolen items. She was also sentenced today to 14 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
U.S. Attorney Murray thanked the U.S. Forest Service, the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office and the Brevard Police Department for their investigation of the case.
Assistant United States Attorney Richard Edwards, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Asheville, prosecuted both cases.