Man pleads guilty in ‘distraction burglaries’ where elderly homeowners were targeted

Pittsburgh — A Philadelphia man police say was ‘notorious’ up and down the East Coast for pulling off burglaries was sentenced Wednesday for his involvement in a crime that devastated a Ross Township family.

Steve Mitchell, 62, plead guilty to burglary, conspiracy and receiving stolen property and was sentenced to 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison, on top of the 10 to 20 years he is already serving for a series of other burglaries.

Police said on June 15, 2015, Mitchell approached an 82-year-old woman while she was working in her backyard in Ross Township. He told her he was building a fence for her neighbor and asked her to show him where the property lines were.

Mitchell kept talking to the woman in the backyard for about 20 minutes before saying he needed to get something from his truck.

The woman went inside and saw the basement light was on, and when she went downstairs she discovered a safe containing $140,000 in cash and $30,000 in U.S. Treasury and savings bonds was missing.

Camera footage from a nearby home, which police later viewed, shows Mitchell getting into a truck with a large, metal, square object that appears to be the woman’s safe.

Mitchell was initially arrested when police responded to a burglary call in West View which matched the description of other burglaries in the area in which several people are involved and one acts as a ‘distractor’ to keep the homeowner from realizing the others are inside the house stealing items.

Under questioning following the West View burglary, Mitchell admitted being involved in the theft of the Ross woman’s safe.

Police said several other people were involved in these crimes but Mitchell would not give investigators names and police have not been able to identify them.

The Ross woman and her son submitted a victim impact statement to the court, in which they said the woman’s husband worked for years to save the money before dying of lung cancer and that the theft has caused her “financial devastation.”

Mitchell is being held at SCI-Laurel Highlands prison.