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Articles Posted in Robbery and Burglary

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dollar-1362244_1280-1-300x200This week at the Greenbelt federal courthouse, a Prince George’s County man was sentenced 4 years in prison for a bank robbery that occurred back in 2019.  According to the guilty plea the defendant entered a bank in Oxon Hill, Maryland during normal business hours and demanded his money.  When the bank teller told the defendant that he would need to provide his identification and debit card in order to withdraw money, the man apparently became upset.  He then demanded money again from the teller, but this time he explained he was committing a robbery and that he would shoot everyone in the bank.  The bank teller was obviously shaken, but followed her training and complied with the man’s request.  She handed over $202 in cash and the man fled the scene.  Unbeknownst to the defendant, the stack of cash contained a GPS tracking device that was likely activated automatically upon being removed from the drawer.

Law enforcement followed the GPS signal and located the defendant a short time later at a fast food restaurant in the same shopping center as the bank.  The defendant was arrested and police recovered the $202 in cash on his person.  Police also reviewed surveillance footage from inside the restaurant that showed the man discarding an object in a trash can.  This object turned out to be the GPS tracking device, which police recovered and entered into evidence.  The robbery did not occur on federal property, and the Prince George’s County Police was likely the agency that apprehended the defendant, but nonetheless he was charged under the federal bank robbery statute.  18 U.S. Code §2113 was established to give the federal government jurisdiction to prosecute robbery from any bank, credit union or savings and loan association in the United States that operates under U.S. law, is a member of the Federal Reserve or is insured by the FDIC.  This basically includes any bank, whether foreign or domestic, that operates in the U.S.  The federal bank robbery statute also covers theft of anything over $1,000, and burglary or other felony committed against the bank.  Bank robbery is a felony with a 20-year maximum penalty, which becomes 25 years if the defendant commits an assault or uses a dangerous weapon or device.  Theft of more than $1,000 in currency or other items from a bank carries a 10-year maximum penalty.

Typically, when we think of bank robbery we think of a masked person pointing a gun at the teller, but a large number of bank robberies are committed without weapons.  Simply relaying a verbal threat to a teller or even passing a threatening note with a demand for money is enough of a show of force to trigger robbery charges.  This is the same under both federal law and the laws of Maryland.  The government is never required to prove the defendant was able to carry out any of the threats in a robbery case.  All that is required is for the defendant to place a victim in fear of his or her safety.  If a weapon is brandished or used the defendant will face a significantly higher punishment under the sentencing guidelines, and if a firearm is present mandatory minimum sentences will be in play under federal law and Maryland state law.

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car-1531277__480-300x200A veteran Anne Arundel County police officer has been arrested and charged with numerous felony offenses for allegedly stealing from the home of a deceased man in Pasadena.  Back in April multiple officers responded to the residence after a report of an unattended death.  The officer in question then returned to the house the next day in full uniform, and according to reports took cash and firearms with him.  A witness observed the officer removing the firearms from the house, but thought it was routine police activity.  The witness never mentioned what he saw until months later when a family member of the deceased homeowner called the department in search of the missing firearms for estate purposes.  The department started asking questions and ultimately came across the witness.

Detectives were probably surprised to learn their prime suspect was one of their own, but nonetheless proceeded to hone in on making an arrest.  Police executed a search warrant on the officer’s home in Linthicum and he was arrested soon thereafter.  The 5-year veteran officer was released on his own recognizance by a district court commissioner after being booked and charged with 6 different offenses including first-degree burglary, felony theft and misconduct in office.  He was also charged with third-degree burglary, fourth-degree burglary and felony theft scheme, and has been placed on leave without pay by the Anne Arundel County Police Department.  There is currently no preliminary hearing date set for the officer’s case, but regardless it will ultimately be forwarded to the Circuit Court for a resolution.

It is too early to tell whether this case will end up going to trial, but if detectives found the firearms during the execution of the search warrant then a guilty plea is almost a foregone conclusion.  While the officer is facing 6 total charges, his attorney will likely argue for the four felonies to be dismissed.  The State will probably push for a plea involving the misconduct in office charge, and one additional theft or burglary charge.  Misconduct in office is a common law offense in Maryland that does not have a set maximum penalty, but it is considered a misdemeanor. Whether the defense can convince the State to go on misdemeanor fourth-degree burglary remains to be seen, as this would ensure the officer does not end up with a felony conviction.

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salmon-3139390__480-300x150A popular downtown Annapolis restaurant was burglarized last month, and the two suspects have yet to be identified or apprehended.  Unfortunately, dozens of businesses and homes are burglarized each day in Maryland, but this incident was particularly bizarre.  For starters, surveillance video showed the suspects entering the restaurant’s kitchen through an unlocked door while many members of the staff were still busing closing down after a night of business.  Rather than proceed to look for cash, liquor or other common valuable items, the burglars went straight to the walk-in refrigerator an emerged with approximately 40 salmon fillets.  At a cost of $10 per fillet, the total loss for the restaurant was around $400.  While not the heist of the year, this likely ranks as one of the largest fish thefts in Anne Arundel County in a while.

Annapolis Police first responded to the call after midnight following a busy post-quarantine Sunday night.  According to police, the manager was getting ready to head home when he noticed several salmon fillets sitting in the kitchen instead of their normal storage spot in the fridge.  He questioned his fellow employees, but none were able to provide an explanation about the mislaid fillets.  A trip to the office for a review of the security cameras quickly explained the situation, though it was likely not what the employees expected to see.  It is unclear whether the thieves performed a quick in and out job, or took their time to maximize their haul.  In the movies, a bank heist usually goes south when the robbers spend too much time in the vault.  These salmon thieves may have taken notice and limited their time in the walk-in refrigerator.

Had the pair have been caught in the act, or identified and arrested down the road they would have faced multiple criminal charges including second-degree burglary.  Second-degree burglary is defined as breaking and entering a storehouse (business) with the intent to commit a theft, arson or a crime of violence.  Contrary to common belief, breaking and entering does not mean the suspect actually has to break something to gain access to the interior of the building.  Opening an unlocked door and crossing through the doorway is enough of an intentional act to qualify as breaking and entering under Maryland law.  Second-degree burglary is a felony with a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, though if a firearm was stolen it becomes a 20-year maximum.  Other states such as Florida have similar enhanced penalties when a burglary suspect steals a firearm during the course of the crime.  In Florida this becomes armed burglary, which is actually punishable by life in prison.  The suspects would also have been charged with theft less than $1,500, which is punishable by up to 6 months in jail.  If the suspects did not have lengthy criminal records the state would likely have offered a plea to theft, and kept the offense a misdemeanor.  The case is likely to remain as cold as the salmon left in the fridge, but if anything changes the Blog will be sure to post a follow up article.

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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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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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