Sonora, California – Tuolumne County District Attorney Laura Krieg announced today that Austin Michael Lassa, 23, of Sonora, was convicted by a jury on September 23, 2020 before Judge Kevin Seibert of seven counts of First Degree Residential Burglary, one count of Second Degree Burglary, one count of Possessing Stolen Property and one count of Possession of Burglary tools. Assistant District Attorney Eric Hovatter filed and prosecuted the case for the People.
According to Hovatter the case began on April 13, 2020 when Lassa was observed riding a bicycle into the yard of a residence on Crystal Falls Drive (which turned out to be his residence) just after midnight. Lassa was wearing gloves, all black clothing with a hoodie and had a black ski mask, a modified flashlight and several suspicious items in a duffel bag (including a brand-new Star Wars drone in a box). Because he was on probation for a prior felony, with search terms, members of the Tuolumne County Probation Department conducted a search of his house, including a locked detached garage. Inside the garage deputies located a number of chain saws, power tools, snowboards, air compressors, bicycles, tool boxes, speakers fishing equipment, collectable sports items, golf clubs, clothing and numerous other items. Almost immediately it was determined that many of the items had been reported stolen in a series of burglaries within a mile of Lassa’s residence dating back to November of 2019. Victims of those burglaries were contacted and many were able to identify items recovered in Lassa’s garage as having come from their homes. Lassa was interviewed and claimed to have been given many of the items, or to having purchased them at garage sales. ADA Hovatter elected to file burglary charges in addition to a charge of possessing stolen property under the theory that, even though Lassa was not observed in any of the houses nor were his fingerprints found at the scene, there was other evidence tying him to the burglaries including the proximity of his house to all the other burglaries and the possession of burglary tools at the time of his arrest. Several months after Lassa’s arrest the Sheriff’s Department obtained a cell phone from a neighbor who had found it on their property. The phone was forensically examined and it was determined to be Lassa’s. In the phone were photos of stolen property that Lassa had been trying to sell. There were also pictures of a firearm that Lassa had stolen from a nearby neighbor (that gun was not recovered from Lassa’s garage and remains missing). There were a number of text messages on that phone, as well as another phone that had been seized from the garage, that had Lassa communicating with other people about targeting houses, dressing in all black and selling stolen items.
According to ADA Hovatter the trial lasted four days and featured a number of victims travelling from hours away to testify about their burglary and subsequent return of some of their property. Most of the victims reported coming home to find front doors pried open, or door windows broken to allow access to the lock. Losses to victims were as high as $26,000, and many reported losses in the thousands of dollars. One witness testified he had noticed a boxed Star Wars drone/droid taken from his house (that matched the one Lassa was found in possession of when he was arrested). In one house Lassa or one of his helpers actually helped themselves to waffles and left uneaten ones on the victim’s stove, and in another they used the toilet despite the water having been turned off for the winter.
The jury deliberated for under two hours before returning verdicts of guilty on all counts. Lassa faces up to 16 years 8 months in state prison. The seven residential burglary charges are strikes which will drastically increase his prison exposure should he commit new felonies when he gets out of prison. ADA Hovatter indicated that this case is evidence that Tuolumne County law enforcement, and the District Attorney’s Office in particular, takes all burglaries (especially residential burglaries) very seriously and will do everything in its power to aggressively prosecute those burglars to the fullest extent of the law.