HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) – The attorney for Bernard Grucza, who plead guilty to manslaughter in the stabbing death of Hamburg Toys R Us manager Larry Wells on Monday, says his client never intended to kill Wells. The attorney said Grucza was in the store in June to steal money to support his family, and stabbed Wells after unexpectedly encountering him.
In the weeks following the killing, the 39-year-old went on to burglarize at least three other Toys R Us stores, prosecutors revealed. In federal court Tuesday morning, Grucza pleaded guilty to a weapons charge unrelated to the Toys R Us homicide. As a part of his plea, Grucza agreed to pay Toys R Us $223,000 in restitution. In return, he will not be charged for the burglaries.
Before the Erie County District Attorney agreed to allow the Toys R Us killer to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of murder, Frank Sedita teamed up with U.S. Attorney William Hochul.
Grucza was facing an unrelated weapons charge in federal court, and in its investigation, the FBI learned Grucza had been stealing merchandise from Toys R Us then selling it on eBay for years.
“Because of the FBI’s investigation, they were able to determine $191,000 worth of stolen merchandise was sold on eBay,” said Timothy Lynch, the Assistant U.S. Attorney in charge of the case.
So in order to accept his guilty plea to manslaughter and his guilty plea to the federal weapons charge, investigators made Grucza first admit to the entire scope of his theft. It turns out he burglarized three stores in Pennsylvania in the months after he stabbed Larry Wells to death.
“In this case Grucza was the loss prevention manager, so he was uniquely well-suited to rip the company he was employed off,” Hochul said.
Hamburg Police said they extensively investigated whether prior theft was a motive for the murder. Did Larry Wells discover Bernard Grucza was stealing merchandise? Did Grucza kill him to prevent Wells from reporting him? Police said they never found a link to prove that theory.
Many other questions remain unanswered, such as whether Grucza happened to burglarize the Pennylvania stores wearing a disguise and holding a knife, like the day he killed Wells. Grucza’s attorney insists his client went there not to kill, but simply to steal.
Federal prosecutors would only say Grucza told them how he broke in and how he stole from the other stores. He agreed to pay Toys R Us $223,000 in restitution. And in return, he will not be charged with those burglaries and thefts.
Prosecutors said they would not pursue charges against Grucza’s wife, and they would not expand on whether she was aware of or participated in the eBay scheme.
Grucza’s attorney said his client does not have a quarter of a million dollars available to pay. However, the Gruczas do own a 3500-square foot home in East Aurora.
For the weapons charge, Grucza admitted he lied online when buying a gun and lied to a gun broker, saying he was someone else. The recommended sentence is 18-24 months, which will run concurrently with his sentence for first-degree manslaughter.
He will be sentenced in May on one charge and July on the other.