Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

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graphics-882726_640-300x207The notorious former mayor of Baltimore City learned her fate last week in federal court, and will now have to serve three years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.  The 69-year old must also pay over $400,000 in restitution to victims of her crimes, and forfeit almost $670,000 in assets including property that was purchased with illegally gained funds.  The sentence was announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the FBI and the IRS.  The former mayor will likely surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons within the next couple of months, and be assigned to a minimum-security facility or prison camp.  Since there is no parole under federal law, the former mayor could serve a little more than 30 months in prison, with the potential for an earlier release to a halfway house.

The former mayor was sentenced on four separate criminal counts including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion.  All four offenses are classified as felonies under federal law, and the mayor will now live the rest of her life as a convicted felon.  According to the facts stipulated in the guilty plea that took place a few months ago, the former mayor conspired with her 38-year old legislative aide to carry out a complex web of frauds over the course a nearly decade long business relationship.  The major fraud scheme was related to the mayor’s three-part children’s book series, which was created in 2011.  The defendant and her aide contracted with the University of Maryland Medical System to deliver 20,000 books in each series for $5 per copy.  This $300,000 contract stipulated in part that the books would be delivered to Baltimore City schools, but the former mayor instead resold the books to other charities to generate more profits.

Defrauding the University of Maryland and other non-profits was only half of the scheme, as the former mayor did not report any of these illegal profits to the IRS.  Rather, the two co-conspirators funneled the money to straw donors, fictitious citizens who donated money to the mayor’s reelection campaigns.  The mayor also issued checks to her former legislative aide for services that were never rendered.  The money was either turned into untraceable cash or money orders, or used to pay credit card bills and legal fees.  The legislative aide faced charges for violating Maryland election laws in 2017, and it was likely that UM and other non-profits paid for his legal fees.  The aide was ultimately convicted for violating election laws and had his nomination to serve as a state delegate taken away by the governor.

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money-943782_960_720-300x225The second of two defendants who committed a 2018 armed robbery in Baltimore City was sentenced last week to 9 years in federal prison.  The 29-year old defendant was originally charged in state court with, but about 7 months after the robbery the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office entered the charges nolle prosequi, which meant they declined to prosecute the case.  While a nolle pros. is usually a cause for celebration, in this case it was the opposite, as the case was dismissed in state court after federal prosecutors decided to take over.

As detailed in guilty plea, in February of 2018 the defendant and another Baltimore City man walked into a restaurant brandishing a firearm and demanded money from the cash register.  In addition to taking cash from the register and the tip jar, the defendants also took personal belongings at gunpoint from patrons at the restaurant.  After the defendants left the restaurant a 911 call to the Baltimore Police was placed and officers arrived on scene shortly thereafter.  One officer was canvassing the area of the robbery, and located two suspects in an alley counting cash up against a brick wall.  The suspects matched the description in the 911 call, and the counting money in an alleyway was certainly another cause for concern.  Both suspects were detained and searched, and police found $272 in cash, a bag of change, two masks, two bandannas, two cell phones that belonged to victims and a receipt from the restaurant.  Police also found a loaded handgun in the vicinity that matched the description a victim gave of the gun used in the robbery.

There was little question that police had detained and arrested the right suspects, and a show-up identification by the victims confirmed what police already knew.  The only questions remaining were who would prosecute the case, and how much time the defendants would receive.  Initially the case began as a Baltimore City District Court case, and a month after the incident the State filed a 25-count indictment in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which included charges for first and second degree assault, armed robbery, robbery, use of a firearm in a crime of violence and firearm possession by a convicted felon.  The charges regarding firearm use in a violent crime and possession by a convicted felon both carry 5-year mandatory minimum sentences upon conviction.  Either way the defendants were likely going to serve at least 5 years, but ultimately the feds decided they would prosecute the case.

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mail-truck-3248139_1280-300x200Montgomery County Police have charged a 32-year old mail carrier with multiple counts of theft for stealing numerous pieces of mail including a package containing rare coins worth close to $3,000.  The Greenbelt man has likely worked his last shift as a federal employee after allegedly confessing to the crime.  In addition to the confession, U.S. Postal Police Agents searched the defendant’s home and found other pieces of stolen mail from his delivery route in Silver Spring.  The mail carrier now faces six charges in the Montgomery County District Court, including two felonies for theft over $1,500 but less than $25,000.  He is also charged with theft scheme, and conspiracy to commit theft over $1,500, for allegedly working with another person to sell the stolen goods.  Trial is currently set for February 25, 2020 in the Silver Spring courthouse.  Online court records show the man is represented by the Public Defender, though his income as a federal employee may bar their continued representation.

Like many theft defendants, the mail carrier may have sealed fate by trying to flip the stolen coins for cash too soon, and in the same general location as the theft.  It seems as if the defendant conspired with another person to sell the goods to a coin shop in downtown Silver Spring, in an effort to conceal his own identity.  Unbeknownst to the co-conspirator, the coin shop, and other coin shops in the area, had already been tipped off about the possibility of these specific rare coins potentially being stolen.  An email was apparently circulated to pawn shops in the region.  The Silver Spring coin shop refused to engage in a transaction, and contacted law enforcement to inform them of the development.  The investigation led officers to the mail carrier in Greenbelt, and upon being questioned he apparently admitted to everything.

The mail carrier likely does not have a criminal record, as the requirements to work for the USPS include strict background checks.  The strict requirements are consistent with the mail carrier’s important responsibility of safeguarding private and potentially valuable pieces of mail.  In an age where we are shipping more things of value than ever before, USPS mail carriers have remained reliable and trustworthy.  By far the main concern with shipping packages in modern times is porch piracy, or the act of stealing delivered packages off a person’s property.  Having a mail carrier actually steal your mail is the last thing we expect or can imagine, so an incident like this is definitely disconcerting.

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packs-163497_1280-300x200Two weeks ago a lawmaker in the Maryland House of Delegates abruptly resigned from her position, and this past week it became apparent why. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office the former Prince George’s County lawmaker, who served from 2001 until the present, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud for converting more than $22,000 of campaign money to her personal use. The guilty plea took place in the United States District Court in Greenbelt, and lasted just over 30 minutes. Some of the facts that came to light during the plea hearing included that the former lawmaker had used campaign funds to pay for dental appointments, fast food, hair styling and even a cover for the home’s pool. The charges covered illegal activity from 2015 to 2018, when the former delegate accepted campaign funds from donors who had expected these funds to be used for reelection and maintaining leadership positions with the General Assembly. The funds were accepted by the defendant via a campaign PayPal account and then directly transferred to her personal bank account or withdrawn as cash from ATMs. None of the withdrawals in question were reported to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The former lawmaker faces up to 20 years in prison wire fraud, but she will likely face less than 3 years of active incarceration. The sentencing guidelines call for an active jail sentence of 8 to 33 months, and the defense could argue for home detention or even probation. Regardless of whether the defendant serves active jail time, she will almost certainly be on supervised probation and will be a convicted felon for the rest of her life. As part of the plea the former lawmaker will also have to pay back $22,565.03 in restitution to the citizens or organizations that contributed to her campaign. The defendant is currently out on pre-trial supervision after being released on her own recognizance, and will be able to spend the holidays with her family in advance of the January sentencing hearing.

The FBI was the main law enforcement agency responsible for the investigation that led to federal prosecution of the former Prince George’s County Delegate, though it was not made public how the lawmaker arrived on the agency’s radar. It did however come to light that the defendant was not a first offender when it came to campaign finance rules. Over the course of her career she was cited more than ten times for bookkeeping errors in campaign finance reports, and even fined $2,000. She was referred to the Office of the State Prosecutor in 2016, and this state agency could have easily passed her case off to the FBI.

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street-2701004_1280-300x114A 34-year old Prince George’s County man was recently arrested for vandalizing five cars and taking property from at least three of them. The county police reported the arrest, and stated the defendant may be linked to vandalizing as many as 18 cars in a single 24-hour period. He is currently being held at the Prince George’s County detention center after a district court judge denied his release at a bail review hearing. Maryland judiciary case search lists the man as residing in Upper Marlboro, but this address may not have been current, which could have been a reason why he was denied bail. It also seems as if the defendant has been on the run for quite some time, as a violation of probation warrant was issued for his arrest back in 2010 in a Charles County case. He was on probation for felony first-degree burglary, and was given a 20-year suspended sentence with 5 years of probation in 2008. There are no other Maryland convictions in the man’s past, but he has been charged numerous times with crimes in PG County. All cases, including charges for arson, burglary, rouge and vagabond and theft) appear to have all been nolle prossed (dismissed by the state), leaving the Charles County case as his only prior conviction.

While this case may be confusing at first glance, it is important to realize that the defendant was not arrested for actually stealing the cars, but for stealing items out of the cars. The traditional legal term for breaking into cars is rouge and vagabond, but when items are actually stolen the police will charge the suspect with theft, and malicious destruction of property if there was damage to the car. Rogue and vagabond is essentially the Maryland version of burglary of a motor vehicle. The Maryland burglary laws only apply directly to breaking and entering homes (dwellings) and stores, and the yards or gardens of each. While rogue and vagabond is a misdemeanor that carries a 3-year maximum penalty, the penalty for stealing from a vehicle depends on what was actually stolen, and the amount of damage the person caused when breaking in to the vehicle.

Malicious destruction of property is always a misdemeanor, and carries a maximum penalty of 60 days in jail if the value of the damage caused was under $1,000, and 3 years in jail if the damage was over $1,000. Theft on the other hand can be a felony if the amount of the goods stolen exceeds $1,500. If the theft occurred over multiple days the state can charge based on the total amount of the entire theft scheme. The punishments for theft in Maryland were recently reduced by the Justice Reinvestment Act or JRA, and now the longest sentence for misdemeanor theft is 6 months as opposed to 18 months under the old law. The punishment for felony theft starts at 5 years and can go all the way up to 20 years for theft over $100,000.

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car-1531277__480-300x200Last week Howard County Police arrested a man for theft after he allegedly stole $3,000 worth of merchandise from the Walmart located in Ellicott City off Route 40. The man was handcuffed and placed in the backseat of a county police cruiser while the officer concluded his investigation. But rather than wait for the officer to return and escort him to the police station, the man decided he wasn’t ready to be booked for felony theft just yet. The suspect, who was handcuffed behind his back, found a way to move his arms to to the front of his body and then squeezed through to the driver’s seat of the cruiser. It being a warm day, the air conditioning was likely on with the keys in the ignition, and all the suspect had to do was place the car in drive and he was on his way.

While it may have appeared for a quick minute that he was free as a bird, the fact that police weren’t in hot pursuit as he drove east toward Baltimore only created the illusion that his getaway plan was working. Police knew the exact location of the suspect but chose not to engage in a high-speed chase for safety and tactical reasons. All Howard County police cars are equipped with GPS monitors, so once the car came to a stop the cavalry arrived and took the man into custody. He was located just a few miles away in West Baltimore, which is easily accessed by speeding down Interstate 70 past Woodlawn and Security Blvd. Instead of being booked for theft over $1,500 and less than $25,000, which is a felony with a 5-year maximum penalty the 32 year old Baltimore County man now faces 9 criminal charges and a host of traffic infractions. Also, rather than being released on his own recognizance by the commissioner or posting a small bond for the theft charge, the man is now being held without bond a the Howard County Detention Center in Jessup.

Among the additional charges the defendant now faces is motor vehicle theft, drug possession, unauthorized removal of a motor vehicle, resisting arrest, failing to obey a lawful command of a police officer and escape in the second degree. He was also issued citations for driving without a license, driving on a suspended license, leaving the scene of an accident and fleeing and eluding a police officer. The man was held without bond by both the commissioner and a district court judge, with the main reason likely being that he was considered a flight risk. Anyone charged with escape and even fleeing and eluding to a degree faces an uphill battle at bail review. In this case it appears as though the defendant made an impulsive decision to run, which does not necessarily translate to him being a high risk for failing to appear at court. The man probably should have been granted a bail, but the highly sensational and public facts surrounding the flight likely precluded bail from being an immediate possibility.

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wine-426466__480-300x225The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland recently announced that the owner of a high-end wine storage facility has pled guilty for orchestrating a multi year fraud scheme. The 54-year old Anne Arundel County man was the sole owner and operator of a company that provided storage and delivery service for rare and expensive bottles of wine. He charged a monthly fee for these services, but instead found it more lucrative to sell the bottles to unsuspecting third parties. According to the plea in 2013 the man began offering his customer’s wine bottles for sale to retailers and brokers across the country, including America’s wine capital of Napa, California. He used email and fax to communicate with potential buyers about his “inventory” and provided all the relevant information about the bottles and the asking price. After coming to a sales agreement the man packed and shipped the bottles to the buyer from his facility in Glen Burnie, and then accepted payment via check or wire transfer to his bank account. The proceeds were not shared with, or even disclosed to the rightful owners of the wine.

The scheme lasted for four years until 2017 and began to resemble a makeshift Ponzi, as all the while the defendant was collecting storage fees and accepting new bottles of wine from his current clients. Eventually the owners started asking questions, and the scheme came crashing down like schemes generally do. All told, the defendant stole between $550,000 and $1.5 million worth of his customer’s wine, most of who were private collectors and commercial establishments such as upscale restaurants. Not that it really factored into the case, but the defendant did not posses a license to sell wine within the State of Maryland or any other state, so he wasn’t actually a wine dealer (or a legitimate one at least). The actions described by the government in the guilty plea could have resulted in a number of theft and fraud related charges, but the lawyers decided on a plea to wire fraud. It appears that the government and the defense have agreed to a sentence of 18 months in prison, which will be imposed at a sentencing hearing down the road in the Baltimore federal courthouse.

Fact patterns such as this present an interesting discussion on theft laws, and since this is a Maryland criminal law Blog we’ll stick to offering commentary on that. In Maryland you don’t actually have to steal something to be charged with theft. Obtaining goods such as wine under false pretenses or with the intent to permanently or temporarily deprive the owner of the goods is sufficient for a theft charge. Even if the wine guy had every intention of restoring his customer’s collections he legally committed a theft the second he put them up for sale. There is no separate charge for obtaining goods by deception, as it falls under the general Maryland theft provision that differentiates based on value of the goods. One of the exceptions is failure to return a rental vehicle, which is a separate charge that carries a maximum penalty of 1 year in jail. Theft less than $100 is a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail. Theft less than $1,500 but more than $100 is also a misdemeanor but carries a 6-month maximum. Anything over $1,500 is classified as a felony, with maximum penalties ranging from 5 years to 20 years for theft over $100,000.

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home-1331633_960_720-300x267Online shopping has never been more popular, but the convenience can come at a price. Like the old days, the preferred method of delivering a package to a single family home or townhouse is simply to leave it at the front porch. The inherent flaw of placing potentially valuable packages in plain sight of those walking or driving by is outweighed by the cost of repeat delivery attempts for companies like Amazon and UPS, and the unfortunate result is that package theft has become commonplace. We blogged about a string of package thefts in the Pikesville area of Baltimore County a few years ago, but until now this crime of opportunity has largely stayed out of the news. Last month a package theft in Harford County made national headlines, but not for the reasons you might think.

On November 30th a five-year old girl was caught on camera taking a package from the front porch of another person’s Abingdon home, and the video quickly spread throughout the country. As you might expect, the girl appeared to be looking off to her side at someone for direction, and this someone was revealed less than 2 weeks later after an anonymous tipster identified the young girl. Police filed charging documents for a 46-year old Baltimore man on December 14 and a warrant was issued for his arrest that same day. There are currently four charges including theft, conspiracy to commit theft and 4th degree burglary. The defendant was also charged under the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article for contributing to certain conditions of a child, which makes it a crime to encourage a child to commit an illegal act. This offense carries a 3-year maximum penalty and a $2,500 fine.

Fourth degree burglary is charged when a suspect either breaks and enters a dwelling (home) or store, or is alleged to have entered the yard or garden of a dwelling with the intent to commit a theft, like in this case. This is the only misdemeanor burglary offense, and it carries a 3-year maximum penalty. First, second and third degree burglary are all felonies with maximum punishments ranging from 10 years to 25 years if violence is involved. The suspect in this case was charged with theft less than $100 because the package he stole contained a pair of boots valued around $90. This offense carries a 90-day maximum sentence, as does conspiracy to commit theft less than $100. The conspiracy charge is peculiar from a legal standpoint, as the State would basically be saying the defendant conspired with a 5-year old. This charge will almost certainly be dropped by the State.

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monitor-1307227__480-300x212Theft is one of the most common crimes in Maryland, with over 100,000 cases reported annually to law enforcement.  Most of the reported cases involve valuable personal property, but if you factor in retail theft/ shoplifting and the thousands of other petit cases that citizens don’t bother to report the true number of thefts is likely around a quarter of a million per year.  Unlike 10 to 20 years ago, only a small percentage of these cases are motor vehicle thefts. In the early 2000’s and at points in the mid 90’s there were frequently over 35,000 motor vehicle thefts per year, and now this number is hovering around 10,000.  The drastic drop in motor vehicle thefts could be a result of new technology, which has made cars more difficult to steal.  But the real story is the evolving ability of law enforcement to track the commerce of second hand items.

All vehicles sold in America have unique vehicle identification numbers, which make it difficult to illegally buy and sell stolen cars.  Nobody wants to drive a stolen car because it’s only a matter of time before law enforcement finds it.  This drastically decreases the value of a stolen vehicle, and in turn makes cars less of a target for thieves.  The incentive to steal cars in this day and age is for the expensive parts and the scrap metal, which have no unique identifying information.  This creates an obvious problem for law enforcement, as there is no way to know if something is stolen.  On the other hand if you can track when, where and by whom something is sold, you may be able to match that up with a reported theft to produce a suspect. This data gathering approach to law enforcement is far from glamorous, but it has been highly effective in Maryland.

Last year Maryland law enforcement officers recovered over $5 million worth of stolen property by analyzing data stored in the RAPID database, which keeps track of all scrap metal, pawn/jewelry, and recycled automotive part transactions around the state.  Any licensed business that engages in the second hand commerce of these products is required to keep track of all their transactions, including gathering and entering the identity of persons selling items. The transactions are then recorded and saved into a uniform database that is accessible by all law enforcement agencies.  A quick example of the RAPID database in action could go like this:  a suspect breaks into a house and steals a laptop and a watch in Anne Arundel County.  There are no eyewitnesses and the suspect makes a clean getaway.  The same suspect or an accomplice then travels to another area like Baltimore or Montgomery County to pawn the items.  The pawnshop employee gladly takes the items in exchange for cash (at a major discount) with the only condition that the suspect produces identification and sign for the items.  Two days later the homeowner reports a burglary to police, who come out to the scene and inventory the stolen items.  A detective then runs the items through the RAPID database, the transaction pops up and the detective basically has enough evidence right there to seek an arrest warrant for the suspect for theft and burglary.

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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.