A Michigan man was held for court Wednesday at Venango County Central Court on modified charges stemming from multiple thefts throughout northwest Pennsylvania.
Tyler James Butts, 25, had his preliminary hearing before district judge Patrick Lowrey.
Butts, who made unsolicited remarks and burst into fits of laughter throughout the hearing, is accused of being involved in a 2017 criminal conspiracy to use a rented moving truck to make fraudulent credit card purchases from businesses in Venango, Erie and Crawford counties.
One of the businesses was Pioneer Electric in Franklin.
Katherine Jordan, a Pennsylvania deputy attorney general, prosecuted the case, and she called detective William Minett of the Allegheny County District Attorney's office to the stand.
Minett testified that a credit card had been used fraudulently to purchase LED lights from Pioneer Electric.
Defense attorney Jeffrey Misko asked Minett to explain what a fraudulent purchase means in this case.
"We don't know if it's a real person whose identity was compromised or if it's a made-up number," Minett said.
Minett said Pioneer employees said two black males arrived in a moving truck to pick up the LED lights and that the employees could see a zero-turn mower in the truck.
Minett said three zero-turn mowers had been similarly stolen from businesses in Cambridge Springs, Millcreek Township and DuBois, as well as a pressure washer from an Erie business.
In each case, the items had been fraudulently purchased with a credit card and approved by phone, and two black males had arrived in a moving truck to collect the items, Minett said.
Minett also said the names Ray Paguese and Stephawn Paguese had been given over the phone with the credit card numbers.
Stephawn Paguese, of Michigan, is charged in this incident but hasn't been apprehended.
Under Misko's cross-examination, Minett said Butts hadn't been identified as either of the black men who arrived at the locations, although a person with his likeness was captured on surveillance footage at the U-haul rental location.
At this point in the hearing, Butts burst into laughter and received a warning from Lowrey.
Butts argued that he isn't African-American and doesn't wear glasses, which is how Minett described the person in the photo.
Lowrey told Misko his client would be removed from the courtroom if he couldn't control himself. Butts continued to quietly giggle throughout the rest of the hearing.
A Millcreek detective testified that cellphone records of the number used to make the purchases indicated the phone had traveled to and from northwest Pennsylvania and Detroit on July 2-5, 2017. Further testimony revealed that the moving truck was found abandoned in Taylor, Michigan, without the keys.
Misko argued for the withdrawal of the charges of criminal use of a communication facility.
"All we have is a telephone number," he said. "We don't know who it belongs to. I don't believe there's any evidence that those phone calls were criminal in purpose."
Misko also argued for the withdrawal of access device fraud charges.
"There's no evidence that my client possessed the credit card used in these transactions," Misko said.
Misko added there was no evidence Butts was involved in theft by deception as he hadn't been identified as being present at any of the theft locations.
The prosecution agreed to withdraw the possession of access device charges and to modify criminal use of a communication facility charges to five felony counts of conspiracy to commit the same.
Additionally, Butts was held for court on five felony counts of conspiracy to commit access device fraud, five felony counts of conspiracy to commit theft by deception and a felony count of corrupt organizations.
Butts remains incarcerated in the Venango County jail without bail.