‘Cat-and-mouse game’ leads to jail for habitual offender

WAILUKU — A “cat-and-mouse game” and 28 prior convictions caught up with a man who was sentenced Friday to a one-year jail term for refusing to leave a Kahului coffee shop and causing a disturbance at a Kahului restaurant.

Benjamin Soldati, 37, had asked to be placed on one year’s probation so a probation officer could “keep me in check, so I do what I’m supposed to do.”

“That would be great,” he said. “Just for a year. So I can show you I’m not going to be a habitual offender anymore.”

Second Circuit Judge Richard Bissen said it was too late to change the defendant’s status as a habitual offender.

“You already are,” Bissen said. “You can’t go back. Everything from now on will fall into that category ’cause you’ve already racked up the requisite number.”

With 28 convictions since 2004, Soldati faced felony charges of habitual property crime when he was arrested in February.

On Feb. 18, police reported Soldati went to IHOP restaurant, ate a $16 meal and didn’t have money to pay the bill. He began yelling about the bill and threw a plate, shattering it.

Two days later, on Feb. 20, Soldati was at Starbucks on Dairy Road when an employee reported Soldati was harassing customers, said Deputy Prosecutor Shelly Miyashiro. She said it was reported that Soldati was asked multiple times to leave but refused. He previously had been cited for trespassing and had been told not to return to the store, Miyashiro said.

She recommended probation and a six-month jail term for Soldati, saying complying with probation would be harder than jail for the defendant.

Deputy Public Defender Tyler Stevenson agreed.

He said Soldati’s prior convictions were for misdemeanor or lesser offenses in a criminal history that includes 41 arrests. But after being charged with felony habitual property crime in the two recent cases, Soldati was on notice that he needs to change his behavior, Stevenson said.

“It was a scared-straight moment,” he said. “It was an awakening, I believe.”

In the two cases, Soldati pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of first-degree criminal trespassing, second-degree criminal trespassing, two reduced counts of third-degree theft, fourth-degree theft, fourth-degree criminal property damage and disorderly conduct.

“I apologize for my behavior,” Soldati said. “It’s not going to happen again. I’ve learned. I’ve learned I can’t keep on acting this way.”

Judge Bissen said Soldati denied having alcohol or mental health problems.

“You’ve been playing this cat-and-mouse game, either with retail establishments or wherever you’ve been,” Bissen told the defendant. “What you don’t understand about this game you play is when you’re caught, you got to pay the piper. You lost. You lose the game, you pay.”

Referring to Soldati’s prior convictions, Bissen asked why 28 chances wasn’t enough.

“What are your excuses?” Bissen asked. “Why are you a thief? Why don’t you work?”

“I’m ready to go back to work,” Soldati said.

“Why weren’t you working before you started stealing?” the judge asked. “You just take what somebody else worked for.”

Soldati said he had been working. “I didn’t have money on me at the time,” he said.

“Then you go without,” Bissen said. “You collect cans on the side of the road like other people, and you do something honest. You can’t stand there and tell me you had no alternatives, that this was the only way . . .”

The judge said he disagreed with the attorneys’ recommendations that Soldati be sentenced to probation.

“I don’t think probation should be stuck with monitoring Mr. Soldati,” Bissen said. “He can be a productive member of society just as soon as he is released and as soon as he decides to. He doesn’t need probation to tell him to be a good citizen.”

Soldati was ordered to pay $26 in restitution.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com