It started small — a misdemeanor assault arrest in 1993, when he was a teenager. The kind of thing most people who make a mistake learn from and move on.
For whatever reason, Santo E. Oliver didn’t.
After that initial arrest, more followed. And convictions, too. The first felony charge came in 2004, a $9,000 theft of logs. More charges followed, both felony and misdemeanor. High-speed chases, parole violations, resisting arrest, driving while intoxicated, drug felonies, burglaries. Jail time, prison time. Several felonies were later reduced to misdemeanors.
Today, Oliver is awaiting adjudication on two felony cases, accused of stealing — or trying to, anyway — more than $500,000 in cash and equipment. He was recently released from jail following a warrant arrest for not showing up to court hearings in either of those cases.
It’s fair to say Oliver, now 46, has a long criminal record — more than 10 convictions in the intervening 27 years.
2004: Third-degree grand larceny
2005: Third-degree criminal mischief
2006: Fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance; fourth-degree grand larceny, third-degree burglary
2012: Third-degree attempted criminal possession of a controlled substance
Mike Clark, the victim of a March 2019 theft of more than $40,000 in farm equipment Oliver stands accused of stealing, including a tractor and utility vehicle in Harford, is more blunt: “He’s a career criminal,” Clark said.
But who, exactly, is this man? Efforts to reach Oliver through phone numbers in his name failed. His attorney, Jerome Mayersak, could not be reached, either. Nor could Nicole Willis, a woman Oliver described in police documents as his girlfriend.
But here’s what the records say.
Resisting arrest, log scam
In 2003, Cortland police accused Oliver of resisting arrest when police noticed him urinating in the parking lot of the United Presbyterian Church at 25 Church St., Cortland, and Oliver tore the officer’s calf muscle trying to get away, then later soiled the bench of his holding cell.
In Oliver’s first felony case, in 2004, he was accused of agreeing to share the profits of logs he took from the property of a Scott resident, and agreed with another couple to pay them $500 for logs from their property. He never paid either, police said, a $9,000 larceny.
He was later convicted of third-degree grand larceny
In February 2005, he was convicted of third-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and other charges and sentenced to a year and 270 days in jail, but was out again in time to get in trouble and plead guilty in September 2006 to fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree burglary.
After that, Oliver’s record shows arrests on misdemeanors and lesser felonies — obstructing governmental administration following a chase in 2007; felony driving while intoxicated in March 2011. Another chase in December 2011.
Oliver’s deepest dive into felony charges until recently came in 2012, when he was caught in a cocaine ring. He was one of 39 people arrested and accused of buying cocaine in New York and Buffalo and selling it across Central New York, from Cortland to Syracuse as far north as Fort Drum near Watertown.
He was originally charged with second-degree conspiracy and third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, felonies, and faced eight years in prison, but pleaded down to third-degree criminal possession in return for attending a drug-treatment program and three years of post-release supervision.
He was 30 minutes late to one of his hearings to enter a plea. Deputy Attorney General James Mindell told Oliver’s lawyer, Richard VanDonsel: “Mr. Oliver is not ready to face the consequences as to what he’s alleged to have done.”
For the next few years, Oliver was charged with nothing more than misdemeanors — in a 2014 case involving speeding, marijuana possession and circumventing an ignition interlock and in a 2018 case following a chase on a motorcycle.
That is, until March 2019. On March 26, 2019, Oliver and Glen Brenchely III walked onto Clark’s 60-acre camp property on Owego Hill Road in Harford, broke a lock and made off with a farm tractor and utility vehicle worth more than $40,000, police said.
After Clark reported the theft, Cortland County sheriff’s officers found the tractor and utility vehicle at Oliver’s home in Harford.
Oliver is now charged with third-degree grand larceny and third-degree criminal mischief, felonies, as well as third-degree criminal trespass, a misdemeanor.
Clark wasn’t satisfied with a plea agreement offered to Oliver and Brencheley, who were released without bail, and filed a pair of Freedom of Information Law requests seeking details.
He got few. The denials were based on three out of four exemptions for law enforcement purposes, claiming that releasing the information would interfere with investigations or judicial proceedings; deprive a person of a fair trial; or reveal criminal investigation techniques. The only reason that wasn’t cited that a disclosure that would “identify a confidential source or disclose confidential information relating to a criminal investigation.”
$480,000 safe stolen
Oliver’s latest case is his largest, and perhaps strangest. Oliver, with Christopher M. Knickerbocker and Jennifer M. Brill, stole a safe Jan. 6 containing more than $480,000 from a Cortland home, police allege. The plan, court documents show, was for Brill to distract the victim at her Dryden house while Oliver and Knickerbocker loaded the safe into the back of a van.
However, the safe was so heavy the bottom of the van dragged on the road, causing
sparks to fly behind it, records show. A Cortland County sheriff’s officer noticed it near Blodgett Mills and Page Green roads and followed.
When the van neared Page Green Road, a passenger got out and ran, then the van continued back toward the city when the officer turned on her lights and siren to pull it over. The chase continued into the city, until the van spun out of control after crossing Saunders Road, tossing the safe from the back, where it skidded for 50 yards.
Oliver was arrested Feb. 28, charged with second-degree burglary, second-degree grand larceny, felonies, and petit larceny, a misdemeanor.
Others arrested more
Throughout Oliver’s criminal history, he has been arrested, charged, served some time behind bars or taken an offer of a plea agreement, released then committed more crimes.
Which is why Clark was confused and sought information from law enforcement, information that didn’t satisfy him. He spoke with sheriff’s Lt. Todd Caufield and Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti.
When asked about Oliver recently, Caufield said, “I am familiar with him (Oliver) and he is known to the law enforcement community.”
Perfetti declined comment.
However, both Perfetti and Caufield speculate that Oliver, who was released from Jail March 25 following his arrest after skipping court hearings, is related to bail reforms that took effect Jan. 1.
Cortland police Lt. Michael Strangeway said people, like Oliver, with many arrests are more common in Cortland than one might think. One person, he said, has been arrested 111 times.
“The number of times someone is incarcerated is nowhere near the amount of times they are arrested,” Strangeway said.
Can someone like Oliver be imprisoned indefinitely at some point? Perfetti said it can happen, but it’s unlikely.
A judge must determine the convicted criminal is a persistent felony offender. Under the persistent felony offender statute, the convict must have been previously convicted of two or more felonies and can be sentenced to 15 years to life in prison, even for convictions that would normally bring a shorter sentence.
But it’s rare to apply it, Perfetti said.
“Whether or not someone reoffends and breaks the law again is up to them,” Strangeway said.
Clark — who has his tractor and vehicle back — still thinks nothing will change, whatever the outcome of his case or the $480,000 theft case.
“It’s obvious he’s going to continue causing crime,” he said