SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

December 23, 2013

Serial drunken driver avoids jail

Stefanilo hasn't had license since 1995

BY JULIE MANGANIS
STAFF WRITER

---- — PEABODY — It was a record-breaking hot day on July 19 in Boston, with the temperature officially reaching 99 degrees that afternoon.

Around quarter past two, a Malden woman’s 2006 Nissan sedan was struck from behind by a 2013 GMC canteen truck on Alford Street in Charlestown, causing heavy damage.

Boston police treated it as a routine fender-bender, citing the owner of the truck for driving after license suspension.

But the driver of the truck, Charles Stefanilo, hasn’t had a license in years, not since at least 1995.

It was revoked for life in 2005, after Stefanilo pleaded guilty to drunken driving — his 17th such conviction since 1977, according to court and Registry of Motor Vehicles records.

Stefanilo, 57, who lists addresses in Peabody and Medford, is believed to be among the worst serial drunken drivers in Massachusetts.

In 2005, he was sentenced by Judge Peter Agnes to a total of five years in jail — not state prison, as Essex County prosecutors requested — for driving drunk in Peabody in 2004. Another two years of jail time was suspended, and Stefanilo was placed on 25 years of probation, with a condition that he not drive.

And while he hasn’t been charged with drunken driving since, he has at least twice flouted the condition that bars him from getting behind the wheel.

Both times, he was driving a canteen truck, which he uses for his business, “Charlie’s Catering.”

Despite that, two judges have now declined to impose the suspended two-year jail term for being a habitual traffic offender that Agnes, then a Salem Superior Court judge, left hanging over his head for the duration of an unusual 25-year probation.

Last Monday, during a hearing in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, Stefanilo represented himself in a hearing on whether the July accident was a violation of his probation, court records show.

He admitted it was.

But under an agreement reached between Stefanilo and his current probation officer, Steve Mulloy, Stefanilo was simply placed back on probation, with requirements that he report to the officer once a month and catch up on his back probation supervision fees, among other conditions, according to the case docket and court papers.

Judge Douglas Wilkins accepted the agreement, according to court records.

In November 2011, probation officers in Essex County, where Stefanilo was being supervised at the time, had urged another judge to revoke his probation after he was caught driving a truck on Route 128 in Burlington.

But Stefanilo also talked his way out of going back to jail after that violation, telling Judge Timothy Feeley that he’d decided to “take a shot” and drive the canteen truck himself after the young woman he’d hired to drive him around had an emergency.

Feeley, who expressed surprise at learning that Stefanilo had started a canteen truck business despite having no license, warned Stefanilo that if caught driving again, he would be facing jail time. “You can’t drive, not today, not tomorrow, not 10 years from now,” he said.

But the judge also expressed concern at the time that if he imposed the two-year suspended sentence, it would wipe away the 25-year probation and the ability to keep an eye on Stefanilo.

A month later, according to records on file in the Middlesex court, Stefanilo asked to have his probation supervision transferred to that county, telling officials he had moved to Medford.

His probation there hasn’t gone smoothly, the docket shows. In 2012, he missed three alcohol tests, once in March and then twice in August.

There’s no record that he’s paid a cent of the $50,000 fine also imposed by Agnes in 2005.

After the July accident, his probation officer in Middlesex County at the time, Robert Cesar, sought a warrant for him to be taken into custody.

Then, in the weeks before his Dec. 16 probation violation hearing, another probation officer took over the case, according to the case docket.

Coria Holland, a spokeswoman for the state’s Commissioner of Probation, did not respond to a series of questions emailed to her last week about the handling of the case, citing a “confidentiality policy” preventing her from discussing individual cases.

Stefanilo could not be reached. He has previously declined comment on his cases, complaining in 2011 that reporters have had a “field day” with him.

Stefanilo could still see some jail time in his future.

On the day of the July crash, Stefanilo and his passenger were seen by the other driver switching seats, something Stefanilo subsequently admitted having done before police arrived, according to the police report in the case. That police report also gives a Peabody address for Stefanilo.

After the crash, Boston police originally charged him only with driving after license suspension, a misdemeanor that carries no more than a 10-day penalty, not the more serious charge of driving after suspension for drunken driving, subsequent offense, which carries at least a year in jail and up to 21/2 years.

Prosecutors realized that police had erred on the day of Stefanilo’s arraignment and subsequently dismissed the original case in favor of taking out a new charge of driving after suspension for drunken driving, said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney’s office.

Stefanilo is due to be arraigned on the new charge Jan. 27 in Charlestown District Court.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at jmanganis@salemnews.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.