DERRY — When Ruben Pabon saw the thrift store’s name was Finders Keepers, he took it literally — stealing merchandise from the Crystal Avenue shop.
The 41-year-old Derry man said he did nothing wrong after enlisting the help of his 8-year-old son to steal a grill worth $400 on April 26. A few weeks earlier, he pilfered a Blu-ray disc player from the store.
But yesterday, Pabon pleaded guilty in 10th Circuit Court to charges of theft and contributing to the delinquency of a minor as part of an agreement with the prosecution. A third charge, endangering the welfare of a minor, was not prosecuted as part of the plea bargain.
Pabon, who faced up to two years in jail on the two charges, received a six-month suspended sentence from Judge John Coughlin. He was also fined $1,000, with $500 suspended for a year.
After the sentencing, Pabon declined to comment on why he decided to plead guilty, other than to say he just wanted the case to be over.
When shop owner Laura Barker noticed the large, boxed Grill Tech grill was no longer sitting on the back porch, she reviewed the store’s surveillance camera footage.
She was shocked at what she saw — the young boy helping to lug the grill away. It had been left outside overnight because it was too heavy for a single worker to move.
More than half of the store’s proceeds are donated to charities that help children and also military personnel serving overseas, Barker said.
“It was enough they were stealing items that were intended to help other people,” she said at the time. “But to see a child assisting was horrible. It was just like adding insult to injury.”
Barker gave the video to police and the media, hoping it would lead to an arrest.
The video went viral, attracting national attention. Police tracked down Pabon after showing the video to Derry school officials, who recognized his son, according to prosecutor Scott Jordan.
But Pabon wasn’t arrested until nearly three weeks later and was then released on $1,500 personal recognizance bail.
Pabon tried to clear his name through the media, saying he thought the items were free and wouldn’t steal anything — never mind ask his son to help him.
After the sentencing, Pabon said he just wants to see his son and has not been allowed to since his arrest. He and the child’s mother share custody.
“I’m a good dad,” he said.
Pabon again defended his actions.
“All the stuff was outside,” he said. “Why would they leave their stuff outside overnight if they didn’t want you to take it?”
Barker, who attended the arraignment yesterday, said she was astonished to hear Pabon defend himself outside the courtroom.
“The sign says it’s a place to shop, not shoplift,” she said.
It was the second time her shop had lost items to thieves. Shortly before it opened last summer, the building’s copper piping and other items were stolen, she said.
Then, not long after the grill theft, someone tried to steal a customer’s bike, Barker said.
Barker she’s still waiting for the recovered merchandise to be returned by police. She is also concerned about Pabon’s young son.
“I really hope his son can move past this,” she said. “The kid had no idea this was wrong.”