Two men who stole more than $300,0000 from ATMs in a series of burglaries in small Ballarat region towns caused massive physical, and lasting emotional, damage to the communities they targeted.
Grant James Nalder, 35, and Martin John Locandro, 42, pleaded guilty at the County Court on Tuesday to more than 13 burglary and theft-related charges.
The pair wore hoodies and balaclavas during the series of 10 overnight burglaries, thefts and attempted thefts, between October 2018 and March 2019, including an incident that destroyed the shopfront of the historic Clunes newsagency and left the tight-knit Avoca community devastated.
Nalder, who was involved in all 10 incidents, stole a total of $320,700 from a safe at Avoca Racecourse and Bendigo Bank ATMs at Beaufort and Lake Bolac. Locandro was involved in eight of the incidents, including at Avoca and Lake Bolac, but not at Beaufort or Queenscliff.
The Avoca Shire Turf Club manager said the theft of $35,700 in cash from the club safe just days before the annual race meeting had had a 'tremendous impact' on staff, volunteers and the broader community.
She found club property strewn across the grass and extensive damage to the shed, grandstand, office, power box and safe, which required a major clean-up before the meeting could go ahead.
The manager said in a victim impact statement the community felt anger, fear and frustration and the theft had impacted the financial viability of the club and its ability to provide funding to other community groups.
The court heard the club was required to pay $20,000 as the excess under its insurance policy, and memorabilia such as photos and news articles were destroyed.
The prosecution summary states a ute stolen in Cardigan in November 2018 was later driven by Nadler and used in at least five ATM theft incidents.
This included one committed by Nalder alone at the Beaufort Community House on November 29, 2018 when he forced open the rear of the ATM and stole $186,810.
He has real prospects of rehabilitation.
Nalder and Locandro are charged with theft and attempted burglary for breaking into the Creswick bookshop on December 14, 2018 and left without accessing the ATM inside when an alarm sounded.
A day later, the pair also attempted to steal from an ATM after breaking into the Skipton Op Shop, but left when ATM damage triggered an alarm.
The court heard Nalder and Locandro also attempted to burgle the Maldon Bendigo Bank branch and access its ATM on December 16.
They are also charged with burglary for cutting a hole through the wall of the Dunkeld Bendigo Bank branch on December 29, but fled when they triggered an alarm.
Nalder and Locandro were successful in breaking into the Lake Bolac Bendigo Bank ATM and stole $96,870 cash that has not been recovered.
Nalder attempted to break into an ATM at Queenscliff in January 2019.
He rejoined with Locandro to attempt to steal from the Ballan Bendigo Bank ATM two weeks later.
The prosecution summary reveals the details of one of the most damaging incidents, starting at 4am on March 3, 2019 when Nalder and Locandro stole a front-end loader from the Creswick Quartz quarry.
About 5.30am the offenders attempted to pull an ATM out from front of the Clunes Newsagency building using the front-end loader's bucket.
They fled the scene, leaving the front-end loader running in the middle of Fraser Street.
Locandro left Clunes and set the car he was driving on fire at Glendonald.
The heritage-listed facade of the building was smashed and the total insurance claim for the rebuilding works and loss of income for the business totalled more than $200,000, the court was told.
The offenders were arrested two days later.
He has real prospects of rehabilitation.Jarrod Williams, Nalder's defence barrister
Police found 22 firearms, a traffickable quantity, and a large amount of ammunition at Nalder's garage during a search.
They also found testosterone, a silencer, a crossbow, weapons, explosives, 16 cannabis plants, fake money and a stolen car at his properties.
Judge John Smallwood described the calculated criminal activity as 'out-of-control' professional thieving.
Nalder's defence barrister Jarrod Williams said there was no evidence the firearms found at Nalder's garage were used in the offences and Nalder had effectively become a hoarder after his grandfather and father died.
Judge Smallwood said he did not accept the defence submission he had the firearms as an 'accident' as Nalder had been imprisoned less than a year earlier for firearms offences.
Mr Williams said although he conceded the offending was serious, Nalder had real prospects of turning his life around.
He said Nalder went 'off the rails' after the death of his father around eight years ago.
Mr Williams said Nalder had shown great compassion and care for others in the past when he became a full-time carer for his ill-grandfather for five years when he was 18 and then later for his ill-father.
He said Nalder was tormented by feelings of guilt about his father's death because he left the house for a dental appointment and returned to find his father dead.
The court heard Nalder then started using drugs, experienced financial difficulty, shut himself off from his family and began offending at age 32.
Mr Williams said Nalder had taken up every program and course offered to him in custody and was motivated to rehabilitate for his two young children, had the support of his family and a job to return to upon his release.
"He has real prospects of rehabilitation," he said.
Locandro's defence lawyer Eleanor Miller said Locandro's issues stemmed from his childhood in which he experienced a lack of attachment and support from his mother who suffered bipolar and his abusive father left home when he was young.
The court heard his schooling was interrupted, but Locandro had worked for 18 years as a forklift driver.
Ms Miller said Locandro was unhappy in his job, which was part of his motivation for offending, as he wanted to have money in the time between leaving one job and finding another.
The court heard Locandro received $20,000 for the offending and used it to pay off his car, bills and help his family.
Ms Miller said substance use was an issue but did not appear to be linked to his offending.
She referred to a psychologist report that indicated Locandro lacked confidence, had social anxiety and that peer pressure led to his offending.
The maximum penalties for burglary, theft and possessing a traffickable quantity of firearms is 10 years' imprisonment.
Locandro and Nalder will be sentenced next week.
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