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Burglary suspects plead to four break-ins apiece; other charges dismissed; men must make restitution to all the cabin and homeowners

Two Park Rapids men facing a slew of charges in connection with nearly two dozen cabin break-ins last spring entered guilty pleas Monday to a handful of those charges.

Mitchell Bugge, 38, and Michael Moorhouse, 30, each entered pleas to four burglary counts in exchange for the county dismissing the remaining charges.

Assistant Hubbard County Attorney Erika Randall said in Bugge's case, there were 23 victims. He pled to the four counts of Second Degree Burglary and the most serious charge he faced, being a felon in possession of a firearm. That charge carries a maximum possible sentence of 15 years and/or a $30,000 fine. The burglary charges are each punishable by a maximum of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.

Bugge, at the time of the break-ins, was on probation for a prior burglary charge and a felony domestic assault charge.

Moorhouse pled guilty to four counts of Second Degree Burglary. According to his original complaint, that would mean the dismissal of 17 other counts of burglary.

Bugge testified that, "He had already scoped out the places he wanted to break into. I had the vehicle" used in the burglaries.

Typically entry to the cabins was gained via a brick thrown through the front door or window, Bugge testified.

Bugge pled to charges involving a home on County Road 4, one on County 89, one on U.S. Highway 71 and one on County Road 2.

Moorhouse, who stumbled over his birth date on the witness stand and seemed confused at times, pled to charges involving the County Road 4 home, the County 89 home, and Highway 71 and one on Spider Lake Forest Road.

Both men were ordered to make restitution for all the burglaries.

"We took a count from the north, one from the south, one from the east and one from the west in the county and looked at the sentencing guidelines so we maximized the criminal histories of the defendants on it in exchange for the dismissal with restitution on the other counts," Hubbard County Attorney Don Dearstyne said. "We did it with consultation of the victims."

Under Minnesota's sentencing guidelines, even if the men had pled to all the counts, they would still receive concurrent sentences, Dearstyne said.

"Bugge will receive a 60-month prison sentence," Dearstyne said. "The firearm is controlling on him. For him it's the same behavioral pattern so under the sentencing guidelines," he will serve the time on the most serious crime.

"They would get concurrent time so what the state accomplished out of this is to get felony convictions on them in all areas of the county and restitution ordered on all the files," Dearstyne said of the plea deal.

Plea deals have come under scrutiny during the election as Dearstyne runs for a second term against Perham attorney Nathaniel Welte.

"I don't like the term plea bargains," Dearstyne said. "We're not giving any bargains. They're plea offers.

"We're indicating to people they can plead to a set charge and we look at the facts of each case, the victims' wishes, which we're required to do morally and statutorally," he said. "We're required to talk to the victims and listen to the victim's input."

He said his office cannot possibly take each case to trial, so plea offers expedite the heavy caseload.

Welte takes a harder stance on plea deals in his campaign ads, indicating he will eschew them as a matter of policy in favor of "vigorous prosecution" of each case.

Both men will likely be asked to defend their stances at a candidate's forum in Nevis Sept. 20.

Randall said in court Monday a third full-time attorney would begin this fall. She is planning on taking maternity leave in November.

Bugge and Moorhouse will be sentenced Oct. 11. They have been in custody since their arrests in late May.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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