Articles Posted in Robbery and Burglary

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money-941228__340-300x225Over the summer a federal jury convicted two Washington D.C. men of multiple felonies after they were charged with committing two separate armed robberies in Prince George’s County. This week at the United States District Court in Greenbelt one of the men was sentenced to 33 years in prison followed by 5 years of probation on charges including conspiracy to commit commercial robbery, discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, being a felon in possession of a firearm and interstate transport of a stole vehicle. At least two of these counts carry mandatory minimum sentences of up to 10 years in prison. Since parole has been abolished in the federal justice system the 46-year old defendant will likely be behind bars for close to 30 years. He may be eligible for time off his sentence for good behavior, but it is safe to say that he will not be released until his seventies.

The facts that came to light during the week long trial were about as bad as an armed robbery could get without someone actually being murdered. Assistant U.S. Attorneys proved the man and his co-conspirators entered an auto repair shop brandishing handguns and then bound and gagged one employee and shot the other when he resisted. The employee who was shot suffered life-threatening injuries, and is now paralyzed. Just four days later the men robbed a barbershop in Prince George’s County in the same manner, but this time they were caught after a brief chase that ended in Washington D.C. To make matters worse, the defendant was also recorded on jailhouse phone calls attempting to persuade several different acquaintances to go to the barbershop and pressure witnesses not to testify at trial or before the grand jury. These phone calls were played in court, and resulted in a witness tampering conviction that was almost certainly factored into sentencing.

As we discussed in our previous post about this incident the driver of the stolen getaway vehicle used in the barbershop robbery was not a co-defendant in the trial, which could indicate that he was a cooperating witness. The names of cooperating witnesses will eventually be revealed if they are called to testify at trial, though it is typical for the prosecutors to leave this information out of official press releases. Cooperating witnesses are an essential law enforcement tool, and though they can’t be hidden forever, police and prosecutors will still try to protect them to some degree. The exact terms of cooperation agreements are never announced in open court, though the agreements may be used by defense lawyers during cross examination. Cooperation agreements with the federal government typically contain some sort of sealed supplement that is part of the plea agreement, and when the sealed supplement is read in court only the judge, court staff, law enforcement officers and lawyers are permitted in the courtroom.

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crime-tape-300x208Last week an armed man dressed in black and wearing sunglasses and a hat walked into an Eldersburg Walmart and demanded money from a cashier. The store employee complied and the armed robber fled the scene in a Chevy sedan without incident. The robbery occurred shortly after 7 in the morning on a Friday, and coincidentally law enforcement officers were about to start patrolling that same shopping center at 8 a.m. The entire incident lasted no more than a couple of minutes, and appeared to be unrelated to any previous robbery, but it left a sour taste in mouth of the top local law enforcement officer in Carroll County. The Sheriff of Carroll County went on record to publicly bash the big box store’s security, or lack thereof. He stated that company policies are not aimed at stopping crime in the stores, but rather holding it to an acceptable level. The sheriff described this policy as reactive rather than proactive, and even went so far as to say the company’s hands off approach breeds criminal activity not just in Eldersburg, but at other locations in Mount Airy, Hampstead and Westminster. The additional criminal activity has allegedly placed a greater strain on law enforcement compared to other businesses, which are better equipped to handle their own security.

Armed robberies at big box stores such as Walmart, Target, Costco and Home Depot are not common, and even the sheriff admitted that he hadn’t recalled specifically whether one had occurred in the last five years in Carroll County. But armed robbery is not the only type of crime that draws law enforcement resources away form other tasks. Even minor offenses such as shoplifting and other types of thefts typically require the presence of law enforcement officers in order to initiate charges. In a typical shoplifting case the loss prevention officer or LPO will stop and detain the suspect and then call the police to make an arrest or issue a charging document. The whole process could take more than an hour, and if police are tied up issuing citations or statements of charges for shoplifting cases then they can’t be out on the road ready to respond to emergencies. The disdain for the largest big box retainer in the country is likely rooted in an abundance of calls to service for minor offenses rather than a major crime like armed robbery.

The company insists it places customer safety as their ultimate priority, but law enforcement officers are not so convinced. Unlike many other retailers there are no uniformed security officers in Walmart (armed or unarmed) and loss prevention officers are typically in plain clothes or out of sight, which limits their deterrence factor. The company has spent millions on limiting the amount of product loss due to shoplifting and employee theft by hiring greeters at entrances and receipt checkers at the exists, but these measures are not really aimed at protecting the customers. Big box stores attract hundreds of people at a time, and these days any large gathering of people can be seen as a target. The sheriff is concerned that spaces with large crowds should be protected by security at all times, not just when officers are assigned to do a routine patrol. The concern is certainly valid, and there will probably be a time when all big box stores have their own uniformed security guards. These mammoth stores are almost like their own shopping malls and you rarely, if ever, come across a mall without its own security.

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thief-1562699__480-300x200Police recently announced the arrest of three suspects in more than twenty home burglaries in the Falls Road area of northern Baltimore County. The burglaries have placed the entire community on edge since the fall when the crime spree first began. Residents became frustrated over the lack of arrests or leads, and showed up in the hundreds at two separate community meetings to voice their concerns to law enforcement. Just days after the last community meeting in Timonium police caught a break after a witness observed an SUV with North Carolina plates in the area of a recent break in. Officers located the suspicious SUV and began to follow the driver until he pulled over and attempted to flee. This suspect was apprehended shortly thereafter, while the other two were located in the woods after a brief manhunt using helicopters and K9 units to track the suspects. After executing search warrants and speaking with victims police estimate the total value of stolen items to be over a million dollars, and law enforcement is not ruling out the possibility that additional suspects with involvement could remain at large.

All three defendants are being held at the Baltimore County Detention center on numerous counts of first degree burglary. Under Maryland law first degree burglary is defined as breaking into a dwelling or home with the intent to commit a theft, and is classified as a felony with a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. Despite mandates ordering district court judges to impose the least restrictive means to ensure the presence of the defendant at future court hearings all three defendants were denied bail, and now could be forced to wait for weeks or even months in custody until their cases are resolved. The two main factors judges consider at bail review hearings are whether the defendant poses a danger to the community and whether the defendant is a flight risk. In these three cases the bail review judge ruled that both red flags were present, as the state likely argued breaking into homes poses an imminent danger to the community, especially when the homeowners were present as has been alleged in a number of these cases.  Additionally, first degree burglary is considered a violent crime in Maryland under the criminal sentencing policy.  All defendants reside out of state and thus have limited ties to the community, which arguably would pose an elevated flight risk.

At the time of this post all three of the defendants do not have defense attorneys on record, though when they do decide to hire counsel the first matter to address will be their bail situation. It is uncommon for defendants who are not charged with a violent crime or a crime involving a firearm to be held without bail, and with proper preparation a lawyer may be able to convince a judge that release pending trial is justified. While each of the defendants faces a total maximum sentence of over 400 years the sentencing guidelines will call for much less. The three defendants are currently set for preliminary hearings at the end of February in the Towson district court, but the state will almost certainly file charges on these cases in the circuit court by way of indictment or criminal information. The Blog will track the progress of this burglary spree and may post a follow up article in the future so stay tuned.

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police-224426__180A veteran Baltimore City Police officer pled guilty this week to a racketeering conspiracy that included as many as nine robberies, many of which took place at the homes of city residents. The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the guilty plea after a hearing at the Baltimore federal courthouse. While the officer is not the first, and likely won’t be the last, to admit to robbing private citizens he is the highest-ranking officer implicated. The 59-year old sergeant from the Linthicum Heights area of Anne Arundel County has been on the force since 1996, and became officer-in-charge of the department’s gun trace task force in 2013. BPD formed the task force with the hopes of establishing a specialized unit more capable of solving firearm crimes, but the crimes committed by members of the task has outweighed any positive crime-fighting impacts.

The veteran officer admitted by way of his plea that he participated in nine robberies while employed by Baltimore Police, and that during the robberies he was armed with his service weapon. There is no indication the officer pled guilty to armed robbery, but these charges could have been dismissed pursuant to the plea agreement. Some of the robberies occurred as the officer and his co-conspirators carried out search warrants at the homes of individuals that were under investigation for drug distribution. The guilty officers often found large amounts of cash at these homes, and rather than submit the cash into evidence as required they would pocket most of the money, and then create false property receipts for the small remaining sums. Federal prosecutors even alleged that one of the robbery victims was shot and killed as a result of becoming indebted to a drug dealer after the officers stole $10,000 from his home.

Perhaps the most egregious part of the plea were the allegations made by federal prosecutors that the co-conspirators robbed citizens who were not even suspected of criminal activity. In order to cover up these robberies as lawful police activity this sergeant assisted in crafting fictitious arrest reports, incident reports and charging documents, that were sworn to and sent to judicial officers. Innocent citizens were basically terrorized by armed police officers in their homes and then jailed for the sole reason of covering up the theft of a few thousand dollars. The officer admitted to personally participating in the theft of over $90,000, but this money was likely divided up between other co-conspirators. Regardless, no amount of money would be worth the 20 years in prison the officer will face at a February sentencing hearing.

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handgun-231699_640-300x169A federal judge recently sentenced a 24-year old Prince George’s County man to 16 years in prison after he pled guilty to a botched robbery that occurred back in September. The young man from Bowie was convicted of commercial robbery and brandishing and discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, which carries a mandatory minimum jail term. This means the defendant will not be eligible for parole for at least 5 years, and he will be on supervised probation when he does get released. The robbery took place at the University of Maryland University College Inn and Conference center located in Adelphi, just outside of College Park.

The plea agreement described a frantic few minutes that began with the armed defendant approaching a security guard at the inn and stating he was on the premises to make a delivery. As the two men walked toward the loading dock the defendant grabbed the security guard and a struggle ensued. During the struggle the defendant’s gun was discharged but did not strike anyone. Around the same time the masked and also armed co-conspirator entered building’s security office with his gun drawn and ordered all occupants to the ground while demanding money. Around the same time the security guard at the loading dock managed to break free from the defendant and made it back to the security office to seek help, only to come face to face with the gun brandishing co-conspirator. The co-conspirator shot in the direction of the guard and the bullet struck him in the arm and came to rest near his spine. Seconds later the defendant appeared at the security office and joined up with his co-conspirator to steal three safes. Both fled the scene, but one did not get very far.

Prince George’s County Police responded to the scene immediately and dispatched a K9 unit and a helicopter to locate the suspects. Eventually the police K9 located the defendant hiding in an area of overgrown trees and shrubs right near the loading dock where the doomed heist began. A search of the area turned up all three safes and a .40 caliber semi automatic pistol loaded with 7 rounds of ammunition. Forensic evidence revealed that the fingerprints taken from the gun’s magazine matched the defendant’s, and ballistics matched the .40 caliber shell casing with the gun that was found. Police later recovered clear surveillance footage of the unmasked defendant carrying out the robbery, and also recovered recorded PG county jail phone calls where the defendant admitted to firing his gun, but stated he did not hit anyone. Needless to say federal prosecutors had more than enough evidence at their disposal if the defendant had elected to reject the guilty plea and take his case to trial in the Greenbelt federal courthouse.

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backhoe-413903_1280-300x158Police are on the hunt for a brazen thief who recently attempted to steal an ATM machine with a construction backhoe in Prince George’s County. The failed heist was caught on closed circuit television cameras stationed on the exterior of a Capital Heights bank, and the footage was later handed over to police. The video shows an unidentified person riding up to the bank parking lot aboard a tractor, which investigators determined was driven several miles on public roads to reach the scene of the crime. Upon arriving, the suspect positioned the excavating equipment for maximum destruction and repeatedly used its backhoe to strike the unsuspecting cash machine. Sparks and pieces of plastic flew, and after a minute or so the cash machine was unrecognizable. Fortunately though the ATM’s thick armor proved too strong for the backhoe to penetrate, and the suspect fled the scene with no extra cash in hand. In the valiant effort to retain all its legal tender, the ATM did suffer an estimated $10,000 worth of damages.

Prince George’s County police detectives have reason to believe this theft was related to a prior successful ATM theft at a tobacco shop, where the perpetrator gained entry through the roof. In addition to stealing cash the unidentified perp also made out with hundreds of cartons of cigarettes. It is unclear why detectives believe the two unorthodox crimes are related, or whether they have any legitimate leads on a possible suspect. If a suspect happens to be apprehended then he or she will face a slew of charges in the district and circuit courts in Hyattsville and Upper Marlboro. In the backhoe case the suspect would likely be charged with motor vehicle theft, trespass and malicious destruction of property. The particular theft charge filed in this case would depend on the amount of cash inside the ATM. Police would have the bank open the machine and total up the value of the bills, and any amount over $1,000 would trigger a felony theft charge. Prosecutors could even add the value of the machine itself, which would surely escalate the charge to a theft $10,000 to $100,000.

If police crack the tobacco shop case the defendant would face similar charges to the ATM case, with the addition of felony burglary counts. The act of breaking into a store with the intent to steal something would generally trigger a charge of second degree burglary that carries a maximum jail sentence of 15 years. If a burglar steals a firearm the punishment could increase to a maximum 20 years, which is the same penalty as a first degree home burglary. The Blog will continue to follow this case to see if police develop any leads that could produce a suspect. Investigators may have a tough time unless the thief left any physical evidence behind such as personal belongings or perhaps DNA and fingerprints. Police did not release the entire video to the public, including the part where the suspect fled so there may already be some leads. We will post another article if police catch a break and end up making an arrest. Benjamin Herbst handles burglary, theft and malicious destruction of property cases in all Maryland courts. If you have a case or a question feel free to call Benjamin anytime to discuss.

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firearm-409000__480-200x300A Prince George’s County man was recently sentenced to just over ten years in prison followed by three years of probation for robbing a fast food restaurant in Hyattsville. The sentencing occurred last week at the United States District Court of Maryland in Greenbelt after the man pled guilty back in December. According to facts stated in the plea agreement the defendant, who was once an employee at the restaurant, entered wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a mask of the popular Marvel Comics superhero Iron Man. Upon entering the restaurant the masked robber brandished a revolver type handgun at one of the store employees and demanded access to the safe. After realizing the employee did not have access to the safe the robber could have fled the scene, but instead hid behind a wall and waited for the manager to return. The defendant later used his gun to corral the manager and other employees into the manager’s office, where he stole cash from the safe and then from a register on his way out. Before leaving the restaurant the defendant also sprayed and lit lighter fluid on the wall and floor, and fired multiple rounds from his revolver that struck the building. Prince George’s County Police were alerted to the scene during the robbery and located the defendant as he was attempting to flee in his vehicle. Rather than surrender, the masked robber led cops on a high speed chase. The chase did not last long, as the defendant eventually stopped his vehicle and was taken into custody without any further violence. Police ultimately recovered and entered into evidence over $2,000 cash and a revolver with three live rounds and three spent cartridges.

The defendant was charged with numerous offenses, but ultimately pled guilty to robbery and using, brandishing and discharging a firearm. The plea agreement called for a sentence of between 121 months and 14 years prison under the federal guidelines, and the judge ended up going with the lower end. While this case certainly had some terrible facts, the defense probably provided mitigation to offer to the judge on sentencing. It does not appear that the defendant has a prior criminal record in Maryland, and there may have been some mental health issues involved with the case, as the defendant apparently decided to rob the restaurant because he was upset over being fired.

The robbery actually occurred on Christmas Eve of 2014, which is a relatively long period of time for a case of this magnitude. There are several reasons why a case that seems open and shut could last over two years. Cases where the defendant has or is suspected to have a mental health disorder often taken longer to settle due to the need for professional evaluations and treatment prior to plea or trial. Despite an arrest by county officers, this particular case did not appear to originate in state court before the feds took over. Some cases, especially cases involving robbery and firearm use, are filed in state court and then later dismissed and refiled in federal court. This process can cause delays, although a 2+ year gap between arrest and sentencing is still high.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200Two suspects who burglarized a Rockville gun shop last week remain at large, and now law enforcement officers believe they may be linked to another recent burglary in nearby Virginia. Montgomery County police officers were alerted to the crime scene last week by the store’s alarm system at round 4 a.m., and they quickly responded to the Rockville shop to find the door pried open and glass cases smashed. Several firearms were taken from the glass cases as well as from racks behind the counter. In total the store reported more than 30 missing handguns and long rifles. The burglary gained national attention after the entire 90-second spree was captured on two high definition cameras, which were played for television and internet audiences. Both suspects were covered head to toe on black garb, and their faces were covered, thus making visual identification nearly impossible. A small clip of one of the suspects warning the other that it was time to leave the scene is audible and the burglars were allegedly spotted fleeing in a light colored four-door sedan, but there does not appear to be any other identifying information on the pair. There is no word yet whether crime scene investigators were able to recover any beneficial forensic evidence such has hair, skin or shoe samples.

Another gun store was burglarized this week in the same manner, and law enforcement officers are searching for clues as to whether these two smash and grabs are linked. The suspects in the Fairfax County crime were dressed differently, but appear to be similar in stature to the suspects in the Rockville burglary. Montgomery County Police are joined by federal agents from the ATF and Virginia officers in searching for leads to these two burglaries. If the suspects are apprehended they could be prosecuted under state law, federal law or both. Under Maryland state law the actions of the two suspects would be classified as a second degree burglary. There is a special provision under 6-203 of the Maryland code that deals specifically with breaking and entering with the intent to steal a firearm. The maximum punishment for a violation of this section is 20 years as opposed to 15 years for a standard burglary in the second degree. If prosecuted under state law each defendant could face over 30 counts (one for each gun) of second-degree firearm burglary as well as theft and destruction of property charges. With the announced involvement of the ATF though, it is likely that if the case is ever cracked the defendants will have to answer for their actions in the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

The ATF reported over 550 burglaries of licensed gun stores nationwide in 2016. This number rose from 377 in 2015, which represents a disturbing increase of over 50 percent. The illegal market for firearms will continue to thrive as states such as Maryland pass stricter limitations on gun possession and legal purchases, and as a result the ATF and local law enforcement could once again have their hands full in 2017.

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police-224426__180The U.S. Attorney recently announced that seven Baltimore City police officers have been indicted on numerous felony charges, and the fallout has already extended beyond the cops’ alleged criminal acts. A federal grand jury returned the indictment back in February, but it was sealed until agents had the opportunity to execute search and arrest warrants. All seven have been arrested and remain in custody after a judge denied bail pending trial. While bail is typically granted for a defendant with no prior criminal record that is not facing a capital offense or violent life felony, prosecutors made the argument that these defendants, who served on the gun trace task force together, were especially dangerous to the public and possessed unique training that would make them flight risks. Defense lawyers for the accused countered by arguing that the charges were blown out of proportion, but the federal magistrate judge was not convinced and stated that no conditions of bail or supervised release would be enough to protect the public.

The charges returned by the grand jury were numerous, and included offenses such as wire fraud, robbery, conspiracy and extortion by a state or government employee. These charges were bundled in one racketeering indictment, which alleged the defendants stole money and drugs from civilians they detained or arrested and submitted fraudulent overtime reports. One of the defendants also allegedly posed as federal prosecutor in order to get more information out of a victim, which the officers subsequently burglarized and stole $20,000 from. Six of the defendants were also charged in a separate seven-count indictment for drug charges including conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and officer is charged with distribution of heroin resulting in death.

All seven of the accused officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges. The six defendants in the drug indictment face even more exposure as antiquated federal drug laws still provide harsher punishments for those that sell drugs than for those that rob, steal from or assault others. Three defendants face conspiracy to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The other three are charged with selling slightly less heroin, but still face up to 40 years with a 5-year mandatory minimum. One of the soon to be ex cops faces an additional 20 years in jail for distributing heroin that results in death.

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money-941228__340-300x225Over the last decade law enforcement agencies around the country have increased efforts to curb the illegal sale of prescription medications. There has been increased governmental oversight starting from the drug manufacturers and trickling all the way down to the patient who fills a single prescription. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are required by law to report large and unusual orders for narcotics to the DEA and pharmacies are required to keep strict inventory of these highly addictive drugs. Doctors who prescribe the drugs face tighter regulations from their state medical boards, and pain management clinics or “pill mills” that were once untouchable are being shut down and prosecuted at a higher rate. Local police have also targeted prescription fraud and doctor shopping cases, and the word is out that pharmacies won’t hesitate to call the cops at the sign of foul play. The law enforcement community has achieved some success in limiting the amount of dangerous prescription drugs such as oxycodone on the streets, but their success has come with a price.

Heroin is now as popular and as cheap as ever, and filled the void left by the shortage of street level prescription drugs without so much as a hiccup. And despite the short supply of prescription narcotics on the street, the demand is still there. Users and dealers have not simply forgotten about oxycontin, morphine and fentanyl. But the shortage of theses drugs has driven up the price and made them more attractive to the dealers who do manage to get their hands on the product. This has left pharmacies, especially the smaller independent type, extremely vulnerable to theft by way of burglary and robbery. Most pharmacy thefts occur at night when the businesses are closed.  The thieves are well versed with all drugs that can be sold on the street for a profit, and know that the narcotics are often locked away in another location. Though burglars will often break in to the pharmacies equipped with crowbars and lock cutters, these tools are ineffective if the high margin narcotics are locked up in a safe overnight. Unfortunately the only way to steal these drugs is to rob the pharmacies during business hours, which is a terrifying and dangerous alternative to nighttime burglary. It is also comes with a greater risk of serious prison time upon begin caught, as one man from Washington D.C. recently found out.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the D.C. man linked to a series of pharmacy robberies in Prince George’s County has been sentenced to 150 months in federal prison where he will join his two other co-conspirators. The conspiracy included as many as four separate armed robberies that netted in excess of $20,000 worth of oxycodone. The defendants wore ski masks and at least one brandished a handgun, while another used pepper spray on two customers at a Hyattsville pharmacy. In one of the robberies in Berwyn Heights, Maryland the defendants stole an employee’s cell phone and wallet that included credit cards and identification cards. The FBI and the Prince George’s County Police Department cleared the cases, which landed all three defendants lengthy prison terms.