All investigators had to do was watch Richard P. Hoffman’s house and wait until he hopped into a car and began to drive away. Each time he did, detectives got new felony charges against the prolific car thief.
Hoffman, 34, had no driver’s license, which gave Spokane detectives the authority to pull him over on the spot, and they typically would find drugs or stolen property in his possession. But each time they booked him into jail, someone would bail him out.
That pattern ended Wednesday in a Spokane County courtroom as Hoffman pleaded guilty to nine charges, including stealing cars, possessing stolen property and drugs. His plea agreement did not include assurances that he would testify in two other cases in which investigators linked car theft rings with two shootings.
“I’m sorry,” Hoffman told Superior Court Judge Maryann Moreno. “I got out of prison in 2007. I got married, I had a daughter and then I got laid off and everything went downhill. I’m scared to go out in the community without the help I need.”
Hoffman told police last September that he obtained drugs from Merle W. Harvey. Two days after his tip, Harvey was involved in a shooting that left two men dead; Harvey claims it was self-defense.
However, detectives charged Harvey with two counts of first-degree murder in what they believe was a planned murder over a car trade. That case has yet to come to trail.
Then in December, Hoffman was the passenger in a car driven by Joseph J. Ellery, who police say shot another driver in another dispute over another car.
But Deputy Prosecutor Bob Sargent said those investigations had nothing to do with Hoffman’s plea on Wednesday. When Sargent first got the case against Hoffman, he had three or four pending felonies which included a suspension of his driver’s license. But someone kept bonding him out.
“I finally got a detective to watch his house,” Sargent said. “Every time he tried to drive, they would pull him over and he either had stolen property or drugs.”
Moreno sentenced Hoffman to about 3 ½ years in prison, but state law will cut that prison sentence in half because it involves a property crime. The judge noted that Hoffman was convicted of stealing his first car at 15.
“You’ve got a wife who loves you, family, church … You’ve got a lot to be thankful for,” she said. “You were on a spree. You would get out and commit more crimes. This is a cycle you need to break.”
Hoffman’s wife, Carley Hoffman, said Hoffman is a certified welder who did well when he had a job. She asked the judge to give Hoffman drug offender treatment in lieu of prison time.
“The man I married is not this,” she said. “I’m ashamed of him. I didn’t realize going in how much help he needed. He needs help more than a long prison sentence.”
Moreno said some 95 percent of the offenders who come before her suffer from alcohol or drug abuse or mental illness. She noted that Hoffman failed in his previous attempt at the drug offender sentencing alternative.
“I can’t ignore that you have stolen from at least eight people in the community,” she said. “My responsibility is to impose a sentence that is appropriate.”