Two women sentenced in Upshur kidnapping, robbery case
BUCKHANNON — The New Jersey woman who orchestrated a kidnapping and robbery attempt against her brother was sentenced Monday in Upshur County Circuit Court, along with her daughter.
Michaelina Sarne, 42, Sicklerville, N.J., represented by attorney Jim Hawkins, pled guilty on Aug. 2 to conspiracy, a felony, after facing charges of kidnapping and first-degree robbery in addition to the conspiracy.
Police said that in February 2018, Sarne, her daughter Alayna Puglia, 24, of Philadelphia, Pa., Lamere Troup, 25, and Takiese Bethea, 24, both of New Jersey, conspired to rob Frank Hall who was the brother of Sarne.
Both Troup and Bethea have received sentences of nearly 40 years in prison for their respective roles.
Hawkins asked the court Monday for probation or 120 days in jail and probation for Sarne and said the victim, Hall, had made statements to his sister he had stolen the money from people. Prosecuting attorney David Godwin refuted that claim, saying there was no evidence Hall had stolen the money but had instead gotten paid for work he performed.
Hawkins said that Sarne did not imagine the incident would escalate to the point it did and had taken responsibility for her role.
“I think it’s fair to say that but for her setting things into motion, we don’t have a case here,” he said.
The defense attorney said that Sarne had no criminal record at age 42, noting a battery charge from two years ago was dismissed. While she had a sporadic work history, Sarne did raise four children.
He also pointed to a “fairly significant” drug history and that her childhood was not what one would call “ideal.”
“The substances that she has either tried or used overtime is significant,” he said. “What I think is important when you look at that is the fact there is not criminal activity other than the drug use.
This drug history is something I would suggest did not lead to criminal history but was a result and consequence of either environmental factors, social factors, things she was dealing with at the time, circumstances, stress, pressure.”
Hawkins also said that Sarne had expressed remorse.
“She is very sorry for what took place, your honor,” he said. “She is very remorseful.”
Hawkins said if the court felt jail time was necessary that 120 days in jail and a lengthy probation period versus sending Sarne to the penitentiary would be something to consider.
“The drugs are a problem, but that is a medical issue not a criminal issue, your honor,” he said. “It’s a serious offense, your honor. She will have a felony conviction for the rest of her life.”
But Godwin told the court, “I think the defendant has gotten every benefit of the doubt she could possibly be entitled to.”
He noted the plea was to conspiracy to commit grand larceny and he asked for the one to five year sentence for that charge.
“She traveled across four states,” Godwin said. “She brought two men with her who have very serious criminal histories of violence and then she comes here and says ‘oh, I didn’t know what was going to happen,'” Godwin said. “She betrayed her own brother, subjected him to this criminal behavior.”
Hall was stabbed, kicked in the head, pistol whipped and cut during the ordeal, he noted.
What happened to Hall was a direct result of Sarne’s preparations and “she shouldn’t get any more benefit than she has already got,” he said.
Sarne declined to speak on her behalf.
Judge Jake Reger agreed with Godwin in that Sarne was getting “significant benefit out of the plea agreement she has reached in this case.”
“It’s pretty clear, Ms. Sarne, that you are the one that got the ball rolling on this,” he said. “You set him up, you called him over to the hotel room.”
“[Bethea and Troup] put a gun in his face, maced him, then they stabbed and kicked him, pistol whipped him and duct-taped him,” Reger said. “He was able to get out the door and yell for help which probably saved his life from the court’s perspective.”
Hall was stabbed close to 30 times.
“This is about as serious an offense as you could be involved in,” he said. “You traveled some distance. You had time to think about what you were doing and maybe change your mind about it.”
Reger also noted that Sarne had tested positive for amphetamines on Sept. 20.
He sentenced Sarne to an indeterminate sentence of one to five years in prison and denied the motion for alternative sentencing or probation. He ordered Sarne to pay court costs within 18 months and denied her request to self-report.
“I think it’s important in a case like this that the court tries to protect the community and also impress upon you how serious this crime was,” Reger said. “The kidnapping charge could have carried life in prison; first degree robbery has unlimited indeterminate sentence. A one to five year sentence – given what has transpired here – I would say your attorney has done a good job for you.”
Puglia was represented by David Bahuriak, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Brian Bailey.
Puglia was originally charged for conspiracy, a felony, subsequently a plea agreement was reached and she pled guilty to misdemeanor of accessory after the fact on Aug. 2.
Bahuriak said that Puglia’s role was unfortunate.
“She was aware something was going to happen,” he said. “She didn’t know it was going to be violent. She wasn’t involved in the planning part of it.”
Bahuriak said that Puglia had no prior convictions before the February 2018 incident in Buckhannon but she and Bethea were involved in a March 6, 2018 incident in New Jersey. Puglia self-surrendered on the Buckhannon warrant April 6 and then was picked up for the New Jersey warrant June 11 for the aggravated assault charge.
Because of the case in West Virginia, he said Puglia ended up spending 136 days in jail before accepting a plea and receiving probation.
Bahuriak said Puglia took responsibility for her role in West Virginia.
“She was upset by what happened here,” he said. “She regrets it.”
Puglia told the court she accepted full responsibility for her actions and apologized.
Under the plea agreement, Godwin agreed to not oppose the defense’s motion for alternative sentencing and to recommend no fine.
Reger said, “This offense was very serious. From my review of the record at this point in time, she was just charged with a felony conspiracy. After reviewing the pre-sentence report, I’m not sure she couldn’t be charged for things that happened before this offense. She wasn’t and that is not what she has pled to.”
Reger said that Puglia’s car was used to make the trip down to West Virginia and that there had been evidence of drug use.
Puglia was not in the room at the time her uncle was attacked but stayed in her vehicle outside.
“When things fell apart, Bethea was able to get away and she drove him back to New Jersey,” he said. Puglia and Bethea were reportedly in a relationship.
“She was only charged with conspiracy, but it’s not out of reach to think that maybe she had more to do with it than just being the driver after the fact,” he said.
Puglia had tested positive for marijuana on Sept. 20, the judge noted.
Reger sentenced Puglia to one year in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail and denied the request for home confinement or probation, noting the serious nature of the offense. He imposed no fine but told Puglia she would need to pay court costs.
He also denied Bahuriak’s request to consider the 136 days Puglia served in New Jersey.
“It’s a separate offense,” the judge said. “I think a misdemeanor conviction and one year in jail is not unreasonable at all.”