Willsey admits to buying vehicles he knew were stolen

ALTAMONT — Kevin Willsey, an Altamont mechanic, pleaded guilty to the top charge against him Sept. 5, admitting he knowingly bought thousands of dollars worth of stolen vehicles and parts, said the Albany County District Attorney’s Office.

Willsey will be sentenced Oct. 17 in a plea bargain that could land him one to three years in prison or up to six months in Albany jail and five years of probation, depending on the discretion of Albany County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Breslin and the findings of a report prepared by the Albany probation department, said District Attorney spokeswoman Cecilia Walsh.

Walsh said Willsey admitted to being in possession of a stolen skid-steer loader, a 1997 International 470 tow truck, and vehicle identification numbers.

The Altamont police said the skid-steer was taken from the town of Worchester in Otsego County and was worth about $28,000 and the tow truck, which was sometimes called out to accident scenes by police, was rebuilt with stolen parts.

A skid-steer loader is a vehicle with mechanical arms capable of performing a variety of tasks; it is steered through a skid-line motion — hence the name.

Altamont’s police chief, Todd Pucci, said Willsey wasn’t charged with stealing the vehicles but that he was aware they were illicit and benefited from them. He also said Willsey had no prior arrests, indicating he may get the lighter of the two possible sentences.

Asked if Walsh Willsey was cooperating with police, Walsh would not comment, saying other investigations relating to the case are still ongoing.

Willsey, 31, lived on Main Street in the village, across from the auto-repair garage where he had worked. That garage burned to the ground on June 5.

An investigation into the fire is still ongoing.

Police began investigating Willsey in December 2011 and arrested him this spring, charging him with two counts of third-degree criminal possession of stolen property, illegal possession of a vehicle identification number, both felonies, and fourth-degree criminal solicitation, a misdemeanor.

He was also charged with three misdemeanors related to environmental conservation laws.

“He was not operating a chop shop but he knew those who were,” Pucci said at the time of Willsey’s arrest. A chop shop is a place where stolen vehicles are dismantled into parts that are then sold.

The investigation began after Altamont Officer Christopher Laurenzo recognized that a skid-steer in the auto center’s parking lot at 127 Main Street matched a description of a stolen one posted by State Police earlier that morning.

When Laurenzo checked the loader’s identification number, he found it matched the stolen vehicle’s.  Police then discovered Willsey was in possession of another suspected stolen vehicle, a tow truck, which had its identification number modified.

“He, like a lot of truck drivers, was on call for Guilderland. That means he was actually showing up at accident scenes, with police there, and taking vehicles away with his stolen flatbed,” said Pucci in April.

After the Altamont Police found aspects of the case sprawling into other jurisdictions, Pucci said, he contacted other law-enforcement agencies to begin a joint investigation.

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