DANVERS — The former manager of two Danvers gas stations who admitted to cleaning out the safes to pay off a gambling debt avoided a trip to jail yesterday by promising to pay more than $33,000 in restitution.
"Anyone who steals that amount of money ... really should be going to jail. That is a lot of money," Salem District Court Judge Michael Uhlarik warned George Erickson, 50, of 16 Charles St., Danvers, who ran Shell stations on Endicott and High streets.
Prosecutors were seeking at least six months behind bars in addition to restitution.
Instead, the judge imposed two years of probation, during which Erickson must pay $1,000 a month in restitution. He also agreed to sign over most of the $10,000 cash bail that he had posted following his arrest.
Uhlarik acknowledged that "this great deal you're getting" was done "in the interest of trying to make (the owner) and the insurance company whole."
But he also warned that if Erickson fails to make those minimum monthly payments, "you'll probably go to jail for two years because you haven't held up your end of the bargain."
Erickson was charged in September with stealing approximately $38,000 from the safes at the two stations.
The employees who handed him the contents of the safes on the morning of Sept. 12 didn't realize anything was wrong at first, since it was normal on a Monday morning for Erickson to collect the weekend's proceeds to make a bank deposit.
But instead of heading to the bank, Erickson shut off his cellphone and fled to Portland, Maine. He was arrested there 21/2 weeks later on a warrant.
Police learned that Erickson had amassed a large gambling debt he needed to repay.
Part of the restitution, $8,444, will go directly to the owner of the two stations, who had to have work done on the safes after the incident. The rest, $25,000, will go to the insurance company for the gas station.
Erickson will also be required to attend Gamblers Anonymous meetings and has been ordered to stay away from all 10 of the gas stations owned by his former employer.
After Uhlarik ordered that Erickson's monthly payments begin on May 15, defense lawyer Lloyd Walmsley pleaded for more time for Erickson to begin making payments.
"He has been having difficulty getting employment," Walmsley explained to the judge.
"He's got family," the judge responded. If he can't come up with it on his own, "they're going to have to give him money."
In February, Erickson appeared in front of a different judge, who after hearing from both sides, said she would sentence him to serve six months of a two-year jail term. Erickson balked at the judge's proposed sentence, withdrew his plea and asked for a trial.
That trial was supposed to take place yesterday, and Erickson's former boss and co-workers, as well as police, were ready to testify when he opted to change his plea.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or email@example.com.