Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

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yellow-690532_960_720Anne Arundel County Police have reported that five teenagers were arrested for attempting to steal a taxi cab in Pasadena just before midnight this past Monday. Officers responded to a call for help after a cab driver reported he was involved in a verbal dispute with the five juveniles. The argument escalated after one of the teens took the driver’s cell phone. As the cabbie attempted to take back the phone, another teen jumped into the driver’s seat of the cab and attempted to take off. The cabbie then shifted his focus from the stolen phone to the car, and was able wrestle control of the wheel away from the juvenile offender. The five teens, all ages 15 or 16, then fled the scene in different directions with the cabbie’s phone. Several police officers arrived on scene, including two Ann Arundel County Police K9 units and one Maryland State Police K9 unit, to investigate and locate the suspects. All five were later found hiding in the surrounding area and were arrested. Four of the juveniles were from Pasadena and one was from Baltimore.

Each of the juveniles was charged via citation with three criminal offenses including theft, 2nd degree assault, and unlawful taking of a motor vehicle. They were released to their parents after the booking process concluded. The five teenagers will now be brought through the juvenile criminal justice system, which will begin with an intake hearing with an officer from the Department of Juvenile Services. These intake hearings occur in the various offices of DJS, and are not held in court. An intake hearing is an informal setting where one of three outcomes is possible. After speaking with the juvenile, the parents and the juvenile’s attorney, the DJS officer can close the case and issue a warning, which is the best possible outcome for the juvenile. If the officer feels the facts of the case are too serious for a simple warning, he or she can choose to keep the case open and place the juvenile on informal supervision for 90 days. This option allows DJS to maintain some sort of authority over the juvenile without sending the case to court. The third option is for the DJS officer to recommend that the case be handled in the circuit court where the offense is occurred. The state’s attorney’s office would then take control of the case and file a petition for delinquency with the juvenile clerk.

The decisions of the intake officer are not always final. The victim, which in this case would be the cab driver, could appeal if for example he is unsatisfied that the case was not forwarded to the state’s attorney. The state’s attorney’s office could also choose to file a petition with the circuit court if they feel informal supervision is inadequate. Typically felony charges end up in the circuit court, so it is likely that at least one of the five juveniles will have their case heard in an Annapolis courtroom. Unlawful taking of a motor vehicle is a felony, as is theft over $1,000. All juvenile cases are under seal and not available to the public, so the Blog will not be able to post a follow-up on these cases, but keep checking back for criminal law news around Maryland.

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home-1331633_960_720The Baltimore County Police have reported the arrest of two men in connection with a string of package thefts in a single family home development in Pikesville. Residents in the area of Smith Avenue and Greenspring Avenue have been noticing missing packages for the last couple of weeks, but many never suspected wrongdoing. Some residents even took notice of a suspicious vehicle driving slowly through the new construction development, but did not make the connection to missing packages.  Eventually the area residents and the county police caught wind of the ongoing conspiracy and went on high alert, and their vigilance paid off. Two suspicious men in reflective vests were reportedly seen removing packages from the front porches of houses, and then leaving in a dark colored SUV. Information about the dark SUV spread quickly, and when the men returned a neighbor followed them to get a closer look at the license plates. Armed with the license plate information it was only a matter of time before county police found and arrested their suspects.

The two suspects were charged with seven counts of fourth degree burglary and seven counts of theft less than $1,000. The 25-year old defendant was released on a $25,000 bail, while the 47-year old defendant is still being held on a $20,000 bail. Each count of burglary likely matches up with a corresponding theft count to represent one act, so it appears that there were seven individual crimes. Under state law a defendant can be convicted of burglary and theft at the same time for one criminal act. Theft less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor with an 18-month maximum sentence while 4th degree burglary under section 6-205 is a misdemeanor with a 3-year maximum jail sentence. Fourth degree burglary is the catchall burglary charge in Maryland, which means there are wide ranges of factual scenarios that fall under the statute. It includes breaking and entering a house or any type of building, and also entering the property of another with the intent to commit a theft. Unfortunately for the two suspects, property of another includes the yard, garden and porch.

If the facts of the these package thefts turn out as they were reported by police then prosecutors will have little trouble proving the burglary charges. Some of the theft charges may have to be reduced to less than $100, especially considering one alleged victim reported that all that was taken from her was a box of coffee. But with a total of seven different incidents to choose from it seems like these defendants are headed toward a plea, as the state basically has seven shots at a conviction. As with any burglary case though, identity is always the key issue. The best way for a lawyer to defend the case at trial would be to challenge the state’s ability to prove who actually took the packages. There is little chance that any of the alleged victims know the defendants personally, and they were not caught in the act. The state’s case would then come down to in-court identifications plus any circumstantial evidence that police have gathered. The Blog will follow these cases, and may post an article about their resolution in the future.

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jaguar-1366978_960_720The Baltimore Police Department is warning motorists of the rising threat of armed carjackings presently occurring throughout the city. These incidents have taken place in record numbers in areas such as Homewood near John’s Hopkins and in the Brooklyn and Cherry Hill areas of south Baltimore. Most of the cases appear to be carried out by two or more individuals who initiate a minor fender bender on city streets. As the unsuspecting driver exits his or her car, one of the individuals from the accident-initiating car exits and confronts the driver. Many times the co-conspirators have used physical force to neutralize the driver before stealing his or her vehicle. Other times the robbers have used the threat of force such as brandishing a weapon to prevent the driver from resisting. Either way these incidents have caught the eye of city police officers, and have prompted the department to issue media warnings to motorists.

Police spokesmen have advised anyone involved in a minor traffic accident to stay in their vehicle with the doors locks and to call 911 immediately. The main message from police is that personal safety is far more important than properly exchanging insurance information for a claim. If handled correctly the thieves likely will either abort their criminal plan or flee the scene. Through the first four months of 2016 city law enforcement has documented 110 carjacking robberies compared to 75 during the first four months of last year. Standard automobile thefts are also up almost 20 percent so far this year, with 1,359 being reported as of April 30. The use of any type of physical force during the act of stealing a car will trigger charges for carjacking, which is a serious violent felony that carries a 30-year maximum jail sentence under section 3-405 of the Maryland Code. If a firearm is used the defendant faces an additional mandatory 5-year sentence. Just as in any robbery case, even the threat of force is enough to trigger a felony charge over a standard theft charge. This is true regardless of whether the culprit has the ability to actually carry out the threat, as all that matters is whether the victim reasonably believed the robber could follow through.

Advancements in anti theft technology in most new cars have resulted in a steady trend of decreasing automobile theft cases. In 2003 there were over 8,000 incidents, but in the last few years this number has been between 4,000 and 5,000. It appears that this year the number of car thefts will break 5,000 though, so hopefully this does not signal a shift in the recent trend. Motor vehicle theft falls under 7-105 of the Maryland Code, and is a felony with a 5-year maximum penalty.

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prison-370112_960_720The Justice Reinvestment Act is one step closer to becoming law after the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill last week. The Act would constitute the most comprehensive Maryland criminal legislation in decades should the governor sign it into law this summer, but first it heads to the House for further debate. There were a few hang-ups since the Blog posted on the Act a couple weeks ago that threatened its viability. These included a disparity in the amount of money the state would stand to save with the reform, and a heated debate on automatic penalties for technical parole and probation violations. But state senators sorted out these hang-ups and ultimately reached a firm consensus on the 96-page mega bill.

The main goal of the bill, which appears conspicuously in the title, is to save the state money by reducing the prison population and then to reinvest the money toward crime prevention. But as the 96-page bill length suggests, it’s not that simple. There is no single way to reduce the prison population because you can’t just decide to release a couple thousand inmates, and you can’t put a cap on how many defendants are sent there in the first place. Each criminal case is factually unique, which is why the trial judge is given almost full discretion on sentencing. In order to reduce the amount of prisoners you have to systematically adjust a judge’s approach to sentencing in the courtroom, and the amount of time a defendant actually serves after he or she is sentenced. Our reading of the mammoth bill leaves the impression that Annapolis lawmakers have developed four main platforms to adjust sentencing approaches.

The most obvious way to reduce the amount of defendants sent to prison is to lower the maximum penalties for the crimes they commit. Lawmakers have made those adjustments in the Act with respect to numerous offenses. They have lowered the maximum punishment for possession of marijuana from 1 year in jail to six months, and have lowered the maximum penalty of simple possession of other drugs from 4 years to 1 year. These other drugs include cocaine, heroin, and prescription pills such as oxycodone. Lawmakers have also lowered the maximum penalties for theft cases, which constitute the second most common class of criminal offenses after drug cases. Keep in mind that in Maryland DUI and DWI are considered traffic offenses despite being classified as criminal in many other states. Under the act, felony theft would require a minimum value of $2,000 instead of $1,000 and the maximum punishment would be cut in half from 10 years in jail to 5. The threshold for enhanced felony theft would rise from $10,000 to $25,000 and the maximum penalty would go from 15 to 10 years. Theft over $100,000 would carry a maximum 20-year sentence instead of the previous 25.

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money-941228__340A 27-year old man from Linthicum has been charged with first degree assault, robbery, and theft after stealing tip jar money from a Glen Burnie restaurant, and the problems for the defendant go way beyond this recent arrest. Ann Arundel police responded to the restaurant around 8 p.m., and after obtaining a physical description of the suspect they began to canvass the area. It didn’t take long before he was located on Ritchie Highway, not far from the scene of the alleged crime. Officers detained the man and took him back to the restaurant where employees made a positive identification. While taking cash from a tip jar is more akin to shoplifting than robbery, the charges do appear to be legally justified not because of the man’s actions, but rather because of his words.

Chances are high that one or more of the charges will be dropped when the case goes to court, though the alleged facts did rise to the level of a robbery and perhaps a first degree assault. As the defendant took the cash he told an employee that if the police were called he would take out his gun and use it. Had he remained silent while looting the jar, the only justifiable charge would have been theft. And based on the fact that there was less than $100 taken it would have been a petty theft with a 90-day maximum jail sentence. But a robbery, generally defined as a theft with force, occurred the second he mentioned the gun. Under Maryland law a verbal threat to cause harm is legally the same as actually causing physical harm with respect to robbery. While a robber who physically hurt someone during his or her crime would in theory face a harsher sentence from the judge, physical harm is irrelevant at the trial stage. It is also irrelevant whether the defendant actually possessed a gun and could carry out the threat, as the issue is whether the victim reasonably felt in danger. The suspect probably never had a gun based on the fact that he was not not arrested with any type of firearm and was not charged with armed robbery.

This robbery arrest is hardly the extent of the defendant’s legal issues because it turns out that he was recently released from jail after serving nearly six months for a sexual offense. Upon his release from the Anne Arundel County detention center the defendant was placed on supervised probation, and faces a lengthy prison sentence should he be found to have violated his probation. The arrest is enough to initiate the violation of probation process, but he can’t be punished unless the state proves that he committed the offense at trial or after a plea. While the state will likely be asking for major prison time if a violation is proven, a reasonable judge should factor in that the defendant never had a gun, and was probably penniless and perhaps even homeless after just getting out of jail.  On the other hand, theft while mentioning the use of a firearm is not something that even the most lenient judge will take lightly.

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lift-81373_960_720While millions cursed the record breaking January blizzard for canceling travel plans, court dates and business meetings, the local ski resorts celebrated every second of it. What started out as a miserable ski season for Maryland and Pennsylvania resorts quickly turned into a moneymaking windfall thanks to the infamous Jonas. But it wasn’t all happy times up in the mountains as two Harford County teens were recently charged with theft at Ski Roundtop. Local police alleged that the two Bel Air boys took rental snowboards from the mountain shop without paying and then rode the ski lifts sans lift tickets. After mountain employees, also known as lifties, caught on to the scam police were notified and reported to the scene. In the past this type of violation would usually result in being kicked off the mountain and possibly banned for the season, but the cops were called to send a message that skiing without a pass is theft, and will be treated as such.

This recent theft is certainly not the crime of the century, or even the crime of the day, but it does call attention to some legal issues that are important to understand. It is clear that nothing was actually stolen in the traditional, non-legal sense of the word, as the boys did not remove the snowboards from the resort and likely never intended to do so. If taking the boards was their intention, they certainly would not have stayed on scene to try them out. Rather, the Bel Air teens were charged under the principals of unlawful control of property and theft of services. This case took place in Pennsylvania, but the Maryland theft laws are quite similar in that they criminalize both theft of property and theft of services under the same statute. Had this incident taken place at Wisp for example, the act of skiing without a lift ticket and using a rental snowboard without paying would have violated section 7-104 of our state’s criminal code. This section makes it a crime to use the property of another without permission, and also to obtain the services of another by deception. Sneaking on to the lift without buying a ticket would qualify as the act of deception, and a theft occurred despite the fact that the ski resort didn’t actually lose anything tangible.

Under Maryland law obtaining services by deception or fraud is treated the exact same way as a theft of another’s property. The maximum penalty depends on the value of the services that were unlawfully obtained. In this particular case the total value of the board rental and the lift ticket came up to $105, which would be a misdemeanor theft with a maximum penalty of 18 months in jail. A charge of illegally obtaining services with a value under $100 carries a maximum penalty of 90 days, while unlawfully obtaining services over $1,000 is a felony that starts with a 10-year maximum punishment. Services often do not have a definite value, so police and the prosecution will typically use whatever evidence they get from the victim of the theft. Unfortunately they tend to round up, but a good lawyer should be able to move the arrow in the other direction when the case goes to court.

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snow-storm-926233_960_720Although crime and calls to service were down throughout Maryland during the historic snowstorm, police and firefighters in Baltimore City were still well prepared to respond if called upon during the blizzard. The National Guard supplied both agencies with military style Humvees, and as it turned out they were put to good use. The city fire department was called to assist with a deadly residential blaze, and was aided by a snowplow in arriving on scene. In addition to patrolling the snow packed streets in marked and unmarked SUVs and the occasional Humvee, the police department was also forced to respond to a few crime scenes. During the early morning hours last Saturday, right in the heart of the record-breaking storm, there were multiple break ins including five reported pharmacy burglaries in the Baltimore area. Police made one arrest in a food store burglary, as officers allegedly observed two suspects climbing out of a store window through the blinding snow while on patrol at 3:30 a.m. One of the suspects vanished into the whiteout, but the other was arrested and charged. Unfortunately for the local business owners there were some who saw the epic blizzard conditions as an opportunity to carry out a quick score, which would theoretically be met with less resistance. Police currently have not made arrests in the pharmacy burglaries, and it is unknown whether they have any suspects at this point.

Pharmacy burglaries have become increasingly common around the state, and especially in the Baltimore area. The pharmacies are not targeted for their cash, as it is rarely stored on the premises. Many transactions are paid with credit card or billed directly to the insurance companies, which is the reason why we rarely see a pharmacy being help up in a robbery. Rather, burglars target pharmacies for their valuable inventory. The pills kept in even the smallest independent pharmacies often have aggregate values exceeding $250,000. And while there is little street value for much of the inventory, the narcotics and anti anxiety medications such as Xanax can sell for thousands on the street. The chain pharmacies such as CVS and Walgreens are more secure, and the pharmacy is typically located in the back of a larger storefront. Some are open 24 hours and have security on site. But many of the smaller, independent pharmacies are not protected in the same manner. These shops are susceptible to break ins, and can have their narcotics targeted even if they are placed in safes or locked cabinets during the night. The drugs can be hard to identify though, and unless it’s an inside job the burglar will typically need extra the time to sort through the inventory. This is probably why the snowstorm produced five pharmacy burglaries in just one night, as the perpetrators assumed the weather would give them the necessary time cushion to locate their plunder. We will follow these snowstorm burglaries and may post a follow up article if the cops happen to make an arrest.

Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland burglary defense attorney who handles cases in all counties and in Baltimore City. Contact The Herbst Firm at 410-207-2598 for a free consultation about your case.

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income-tax-491626_960_720This past week a former juvenile justice worker from Bowie pled guilty to three felony offenses in connection with a $42 million scheme to defraud the government. The scam involved the theft of personal identification information that was used to file fraudulent tax returns for profit. The leader of the ring, a former barber shop owner from Capital Heights Maryland, pled guilty back in 2013, and the United States Attorney’s Office is still in the process of prosecuting an estimated 130 participants. Those involved with this enormous scam filed over 12,000 fake federal tax refunds that generated tens of millions of dollars of illegal plunder. The Bowie man who pled guilty on Tuesday was accused of stealing the personal identifying information of over 600 young adults. The man obtained this information through his employment with the Washington D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Service, where he worked from 2005 to 2013.

Federal prosecutors filed charging documents a few months ago, and it didn’t take long before a plea agreement was reached. The former employee entered guilty pleas for defrauding the government in count 1, filing a fictitious or false claim in count 2, and identity fraud in count 3. In addition he admitted to attempting to cause the government to lose upwards of $4.4 million, of which about $2.4 was actually paid out. Sentencing is set for this spring, where the defendant faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if all counts are run consecutive. Identity fraud is the most serious of the three charges, carrying a maximum penalty of 15 years. Based on the fact that the former D.C. employee entered a plea with the government he will likely be sentenced to much less than the maximum, and he will pay an agreed upon restitution value of about $2 million. But the federal judge will have the ultimate say at sentencing, and there is no doubt that the court will pay specific attention to the fact that the defendant stole personal information from the young people he was hired to help. While the IRS may not be the most sympathetic victim, the juveniles and young adults that were targeted by the defendant face the possibility of financial harm that could be extremely difficult to overcome.

This case should be a cause of concern for all government agencies that have personal identifying information readily available to employees. This is especially true with respect to agencies that deal with the criminal justice system. Almost every police report or booking report has a defendant’s social security number in addition to other personal identification information easily visible. While this information is redacted in the public record, the inter agency files rarely take such measures. These government agencies must be vigilant when it comes to monitoring their records and their employees.

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mobile-phone-426559_640The Howard County Police recently reported that social media has led to the arrest of two burglary suspects, whose crime spree spanned multiple counties. One of the suspects is a 46 year-old male, while the other is a 22 year-old female. Both are accused of felony first-degree burglary and theft in Howard County and in Baltimore County, and the pair is currently in custody awaiting trial in the Baltimore County Detention center. Other charges include 4th degree burglary and false documentation. The alleged burglaries, which occurred 10 days apart back in August, have been indicted by a grand jury and will now be brought before a circuit court judge. The two suspects were not caught in the act, and managed to steer clear of law enforcement for almost a month. Ultimately though the pair was identified after the Howard County Police utilized social media in an attempt to generate leads. The modern crime-solving tool proved successful; arrest warrants were issued in the first week of September and both suspects were jailed less than two weeks later.

While police have only been utilizing social media for a few years, this crime-solving tactic has gained a tremendous amount of steam. Almost every law enforcement agency in the country has some sort of social media outlet such as Twitter or Facebook, and now it has become commonplace to ask the public for tips through these outlets. Law enforcement embraces the same benefits of social media as any business or private citizen. Social medial allows police to reach a large number of people at a fraction of the effort and cost of traditional methods such as billboard or television. The Howard County Police Department has roughly 38 thousand followers on Twitter, and can reach each of these followers immediately with a two-line tweet that takes a minute to type. The Baltimore County Police Department is a little behind with roughly 13 thousand followers, but even with this smaller number the effects can be considerable.

In addition to police departments soliciting information about crime through their own posts and tweets, law enforcement also takes advantage of social media in other ways. There have been numerous cases where police linked up stolen property to a person’s Facebook account. This usually occurs when the thief is attempting to sell the hot goods online, but it could also be in the form of posts and pictures of the suspects with the stolen property. In other crimes, Twitter accounts could also reveal where a suspect was at a specific time, and whom that suspect was with. Police detectives have now made it a habit to scan the social media accounts of all their suspects. In criminal cases involving juvenile or young adults police will often scan the Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of friends and classmates of the defendants and victims. The results have ranged from generating probable cause for a warrant, all the way up to providing prosecutors with evidence at trial. Defense attorneys are now seeing discovery packets laced with screen shots and printouts from social media sites. The public format of these sites makes the evidence difficult to suppress, as no warrants are required to scan a person’s Facebook or Twitter accounts.

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dollar-897092_640Committing the perfect crime is a deceiving proposition. While a perfectly executed heist may result in co-conspirators leaving the scene with their score, perfection in often the fatal mistake that causes their arrest a short time later. Whenever a robbery, theft, or burglary is performed at exactly the most opportune time, with the highest value and the least possible resistance, a seasoned detective will automatically assume an inside job. The suspect pool for an inside job is infinitely smaller, thus ruling out insiders is often the first step for law enforcement. Just like a murder case where cops often focus their initial inquiry on the current or ex-spouse, in a heist police first turn to employees of the business that was robbed. This is exactly what happened almost 3 years ago when over $270,000 was stolen from an armored car employee in Prince George’s County.

In the fall of 2012 the branch manager of a Hyattsville Bank of America conspired with one of her security guards and four other men to steal the bank’s money. The six carried out their plan on November 21, while the manager and the security guard were both on duty at the bank. Just as an armored car employee carrying the large amount of cash was leaving the bank the armed co-conspirators pounced. There was little resistance, and the four hired guns drove off with the money in vans they had parked outside the bank. Nobody was injured, and for a while the bank manager and her crew happily split their share of around 45 thousand each.

For a short time all six probably thought they got away with it. But federal agents, who typically handle bank robberies due to the money being federally insured, were not stumped for long. The four gun-toting bandits knew the time of the pickup, and that particular day the cash load was particularly large. Few people would have this type of knowledge, so agents were left with two scenarios. One theory would have been a team of highly experienced bank robbers who did thorough research on the bank before carrying out their flawless plan. But to risk their lives for a mere $270 thousand split four ways was unlikely, and something not even fit for the movie screen. The other theory would have been an inside job, where the bank employees and their crew knew the chance of being foiled in the act was low.