BUCKHANNON – A New Jersey woman believed to have played a central role in planning a kidnapping and robbery attempt that transpired at the Colonial Hotel-Motel in February 2018 was sentenced to one to five years in the state penitentiary Monday in Upshur County Circuit Court.
Twenty-sixth Judicial Circuit Court Judge Jacob Reger sentenced 42-year-old Michaelina K. Sarne, of Sicklerville, N.J., to an indeterminate sentence of one to five years of imprisonment on one count of felony conspiracy to commit grand larceny over the objection of her attorney, James Hawkins.
Hawkins had requested Sarne’s sentence be suspended and she be placed on probation.
According to a previous story, Sarne and three other individuals – Takiese Naceer Bethea, of Camden, N.J., Lamere Troup of New Jersey, and Sarne’s daughter, Alayna Puglia, of Philadelphia, Pa. – allegedly traveled to Buckhannon Feb. 22, 2018 for the purpose of kidnapping Sarne’s brother, Frank Hall, and forcibly stealing money from him. When Hall said he didn’t have the money, he was beaten and stabbed numerous times.
Sarne and her daughter, Puglia, reportedly rented a room in the Colonial Motel, and Bethea and Troup were also invited into the room. At a previous hearing, Upshur County Prosecuting Attorney David Godwin said Sarne invited her brother, Hall, over with the intention of stealing money from him.
Sarne was indicted in 2018 on two felony charges – conspiracy to commit kidnapping and first-degree robbery; however, Sarne pleaded guilty via an information to one count of felony conspiracy to commit grand larceny Aug. 2, 2019 as part of a plea agreement with the state.
Hawkins asked that the one-to-five-year prison sentence be suspended in lieu of probation during Monday afternoon’s hearing.
“I think once the court hears me out, there are several reasons for suspension,” he said. “It’s important to go back to just how this case all got started and the nature of it.”
Hawkins said the victim in the case had informed his sister, Sarne, “that he had stolen some money from somebody.”
“He did not come into this money lawfully, but nefariously, if you will,” Hawkins argued. “Never did my client imagine that it was going to get to the point that it did. Had she ever imagined that her brother would be physically harmed, this never would have happened.”
Hawkins said that Sarne had taken responsibility for her role in the case and acknowledged she was the central player that set events in motion.
The defense attorney also pointed to Sarne’s lack of criminal history, saying although she had a significant history of substance abuse, her drug use wasn’t “something she was using to further criminal activity.” Noting his client was “very remorseful,” Hawkins said as a result of a recent change in West Virginia law, Reger could sentence Sarne to seven years of probation.
However, Godwin opposed the plea for lenience, saying Sarne had already “gotten every benefit of the doubt she could have been possibly entitled to.”
He also refuted Hawkins’s assertion that Hall, Sarne’s brother, had stolen any money.
“I believe she should be sentenced to one-to-five years and do that in the custody of the [state] Division of Corrections,” Godwin said. “There’s no evidence of him stealing that money. He [told Sarne and police] he’d done a job and been well paid for it.”
The prosecuting attorney also expressed disbelief in Hawkins’s claim that Sarne didn’t realize the situation would escalate into violence.
“She betrayed her own brother,” Godwin said. “He was cut and pistol-whipped and kicked in the head and set up for the illicit purpose of her taking money from him. It’s irrelevant how he got that money.”
Godwin noted Hall had been aware of the time and date of Monday’s hearing but had elected not to attend.
“The hearing would have been very upsetting for him,” he said. “He’s very angry at his sister for having betrayed him.”
Reger denied Hawkins’s motion to place Sarne on probation or home confinement.
“It’s pretty clear, Ms. Sarne, that you’re the one that got the ball rolling on this … once you figured out he had some money,” the judge said. “[After you invited Frank Hall to the hotel room], Troup and Bethea showed up in masks. They pistol-whipped him and stabbed him, 30 times in the buttocks and shoulder blade. It probably saved his life that he was able to get out of the door to yell for help.”
“This is about as serious of an offense as you can be involved in,” Reger added, “and you traveled some distance, so you had some time to think about what you were doing and to maybe change your mind.”
Reger said Sarne could have potentially faced life in prison on the original kidnapping charge contained in the 2018 indictment.
“Given what’s transpired, your attorney’s done a good job for you is what I’d say,” Reger said. “I’m going to deny the motion for probation or home confinement. I think it’s important in a case like this that the court tries to protect the community and impresses upon you the seriousness of this offense.”
Reger remanded Sarne into the custody of the Upshur County Sheriff.
Sarne’s daughter and Hall’s niece, 24-year-old Alayna Puglia, was also sentenced to one year in the Tygart Valley Regional Jail Monday in connection to the Feb. 22, 2018, attempted robbery and kidnapping of Hall.
On Aug. 2, 2019, Puglia pleaded guilty via an information to being an accessory after the fact, a misdemeanor, although she’d originally been indicted on felony conspiracy in 2018.
David Bahuriak, Puglia’s attorney, noted Puglia was the only one of the four individuals involved in the case who had a car, a job and a credit card – the latter of which was used to reserve the Colonial Motel room.
“She has a good work history … she’s currently employed … she pays her own bills, but she has had some bad taste in men over the years,” Bahuriak said, referring to Puglia’s relationship with Bethea. “She learned a pretty hard lesson in this case. Never in her wildest imagination did she imagine it would go down the way it went down.”
Her attorney also noted that although Puglia initially drove Bethea back to New Jersey following the kidnapping attempt, she later self-surrendered and had accepted responsibility for her actions.
In accordance with the plea agreement, Godwin recommended Puglia not be fined and did not object to her attorney’s request for alternative sentencing.
“I accept full responsibility for my actions,” Puglia told Reger before he rendered her sentence.
However, Reger denied the motion for an alternate sentence due to the serious nature of the crime.
“[Frank Hall] was pistol-whipped, stabbed, he had a gun held to his head, they duct-taped and zip-tied him. Although she pled guilty to accessory after the fact, it’s not out of reach to think she had more to do with it than just being an accessory after the fact,” Reger said, noting Puglia had allowed her credit card to be used to reserve the room and was a passenger for the long trip from New Jersey to West Virginia.
Reger sentenced Puglia to one year in jail and placed her in the custody of the sheriff.
According to court documents and a previous story, Bethea and Troup were each sentenced to determinate sentences of 36 years in the state penitentiary on a first-degree robbery charge and indeterminate sentences of two to 10 years in the state penitentiary on a malicious assault charge.