Was John David Woods fighting City Hall or just stealing from it? He has 40 years in a Texas state prison to mull it over.

It was a three-year crime spree that affected between 23 and 34 small and medium-size city halls around Texas -- from as far north as Wichita Falls and as far south as Victoria to as far west as Midland and as far east as Texarkana. Woods, 34, pleaded guilty recently to breaking into municipal buildings, taking cash he found in drawers, safes and lockboxes, and using it to cover his Internet gambling debts. But he didn't feel too bad about it.

"He was like a pseudo-Robin Hood," said John Bradley, district attorney for Williamson County, the jurisdiction that finally broke the case that had stumped burglary task forces statewide.

Woods, of Georgetown, committed his first and final City Hall break-ins in Williamson County. "He felt he wasn't stealing from people, because this was city money," Bradley said. "It eased his concerns, apparently."

Woods did express regret through his lawyer that some city halls subjected employees to polygraph exams in attempts to catch the thief, and that he occasionally pilfered coins that workers kept in desk drawers.

Most of the stolen money -- conservatively estimated at $164,000 -- was from utility bills, fines and fees paid in cash. Doug Arnold, Williamson County assistant district attorney, said Woods's smallest take was $140 in Huntsville and his largest was $25,000, in Killeen.

Arnold said Woods used a computer to research towns, plot routes and rent cars. "This was one of the most ambitious crime operations, considering he did it all by himself and the volume and the miles traveled," Arnold said.

-- Sylvia Moreno

John David Woods targeted a number of Texas city halls.