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Jury acquits woman of petty theft tied to friend’s death

October 5, 2018
By GRIFFIN KELLY - Staff Writer (gkelly@adirondackdailyenterprise.com) , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - In a rare case of trial by jury in the North Elba Town Court, six jurors found Camilla Varoli not guilty of petit larceny Thursday, Sept. 27, in a case tied to a drowning death.

In December 2017, state police charged Varoli, now 20, of Lake Placid with petit larceny, a misdemeanor, for allegedly using a stolen credit card to purchase two 30-packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for $39.70 from the Price Chopper supermarket on Saranac Avenue at 1:49 a.m. on May 7 of last year.

The credit card, an American Express, belonged to Suzanne Borden. She testified in court Sept. 27, saying she gave the card to her daughter, Saige, for the sole purpose of buying gas for the family car and that no one else was authorized to use it.

Saige drowned in the waters of Lake Placid less than a week later on May 12, after a canoe holding her, Varoli and an acquaintance, Jonni Springer, capsized. There were no life jackets on board, and the three had been drinking and taking recreational drugs in the hours leading up to Saige's death.

The key to Varoli's defense, which proved successful, cast doubt on whether she was the one who bought the beer, although no one disputed that it was bought with Suzanne Borden's credit card.

Camryn Brooks, who was a friend of Saige's, said she was with Varoli at the time the PBR was purchased. Two other people, Matthew Pilawa and Kyle Pickering, were also there that May morning. Brooks testified in court, saying the four of them had been drinking, and only Varoli went into the Price Chopper to buy the beer. Pilawa testified, saying he couldn't remember if he had gone inside.

Brooks also said that Varoli used the credit card the night before to make a purchase at Station Street Wine & Liquor on Sentinel Road, but that statement wasn't admissible in court, and Varoli was never charged with that crime.

At the same time Varoli was charged, state police charged Pilawa - then 29, now 30 - with criminal nuisance in the second degree for allowing underage consumption of alcohol and drug use to take place at his home in the village of Lake Placid the night before Borden drowned.

The defense presented a copy of the receipt, showing that the beer was purchased by a person who was born in 1988. It's standard protocol for Price Chopper employees to request identification and log the birthday of the buyer. The exact date - Sept. 19, 1988 - matched Pilawa's birthday.

Varoli's lawyer, Joe Brennan, also suggested that two 30-packs of beer were too heavy for Varoli to carry out of the store by herself.

The jury didn't take too long to make its decision.

Judge Dean Dietrich, who presided over the trial, said despite North Elba being one of the busier courts in Essex County, he's handled only three trials by jury in his 14 years on the bench. Felony matters go to county court, and misdemeanor cases rarely go to trial.

After the trial, Suzanne and her husband Rob Borden said they were disappointed with the outcome. They, their son Remi and friends of the family showed up to the trial. Many wore purple T-shirts with the words "#JusticeforSaige" printed across the shoulders. Underneath were her birth and death dates: "10/20/96 - 05/12/17." Suzanne had a purple sage plant pinned to her jacket lapel.

In a phone interview, Rob said he now believes Pilawa bought the beer.

"If that's the case, then now Matt needs to be charged," he said.

Rob also mentioned other purchases made with the credit card around the time of May 7, which he said he and his wife didn't make. In December, state police also charged Varoli with three counts of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, for allegedly providing alcohol to three people under the age of 21. Saige was one of those three. Varoli is set to appear in the Lake Placid Village Court to face those charges on Jan. 9.

 
 

 

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