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Articles Posted in Robbery and Burglary

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money-943782_960_720-300x225This past week in the Baltimore federal courthouse a 26-year-old defendant pleaded guilty for his involvement in three separate robberies in the Baltimore metro area.  The first robbery took place in October of 2019 at a Baltimore City pharmacy.  In this particular incident the government presented evidence that the defendant and his co-conspirator entered the pharmacy just as it opened in the morning, and while donning masks, gloves and glasses brandished a black revolver and demanded cash from the safe.  The clerk gave the men over $1,600 and then was bound with zip ties while the pair fled in the victim’s vehicle.

One month later the two defendants committed a second robbery in Anne Arundel County.  This robbery took place at a retail store, where the defendants entered right at closing time.  Once again, the pair were clad in masks and gloves and carrying handguns.  After taking over $3,000 from the store and striking a victim in the head, the defendants fled the scene in the victim’s vehicle.  The final robbery was committed in December of 2019 in Baltimore County restaurant in Parkville.  The defendants entered the restaurant at 7 a.m. just as the shift manager and another coworker were opening for the day, and once again the defendants brandished a firearm and demanded money from the restaurant safe.  After stealing close to $4,000 from the safe and binding the victims with zip ties the defendants fled in one of the victim’s vehicles.

One day after the third and final robbery Baltimore County Police detectives located the stolen vehicle and surreptitiously outfitted it with a GPS tracker.  Two days later police followed the vehicle as it moved and eventually attempted to effectuate a traffic stop.  The defendant abandoned the vehicle and then fled on foot, but was then apprehended a short time later on Harford Road.  After being arrested the defendant agreed to speak to police, and claimed he found the stolen vehicle that day and was merely taking it for a joy ride.  Law enforcement officers obviously were not convinced and ended up charging him with robbery, assault in the first degree, motor vehicle taking and felony theft.  The case was forwarded to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County with additional charges for use of a firearm in a crime of violence and CDS drug charges.  In November of 2020 the case was nolle prossed after the feds decided to pick it up.  While the U.S. Attorney’s press release does not mention the specifics, the feds were likely alerted after local law enforcement discovered the defendant’s involvement in the two other robberies.  A search warrant was executed on the defendant’s phone, and law enforcement found pictures of large amounts of cash on the same day as the first robbery.  Cell phone tracking data also showed the defendant was in the area of the first two robberies on the dates in question.

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pistol-1350484_1280-300x200A 20-year-old Washington D.C. man was recently sentenced to five years in federal prison after he pled guilty to theft of firearms from a federal firearms licensee’s facility.  This offense is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.  The incident occurred back in August of 2019 at a Baltimore County gun store in the Essex area.  According to the plea agreement the defendant and a co-conspirator drove up to the gun store in a stolen vehicle, and repeatedly attempted to ram the front door of the shop with the stolen car.  The defendant then broke one of the store’s windows, entered and then proceeded to throw stolen firearms to the co-conspirator waiting outside.  The two fled the scene and were not apprehended immediately.  Shortly after the burglary the defendant posted on social media about the heist, and was not shy about showing off the stolen guns, gloves and mask he wore.  Law enforcement officers were able to match the social medial video with the store surveillance video, and were aided by distinctive tattoos on the defendant’s forearm.  The social medial videos also showed strings tied around the triggers of the weapons, which the store had used for identification.

As if the police needed more evidence of the defendant’s guilt, it turns out that he was also on GPS monitoring for a Prince George’s County case when he carried out the burglary.  The defendant was charged with armed robbery in 2018 and eventually pled guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery ( a misdemeanor common law offense in Maryland).  He was likely being supervised by parole and probation at the time, as he just pled guilty in May of 2019.  There is currently an active warrant out of the Prince George’s County Circuit Court for a violation of probation, though it is unclear how many years the defendant is backing up.

This case is another example of the feds picking up what would normally be a state case.  Much like bank robbery cases, the feds will typically get involved when gun shops are burglarized, as all arms dealers must be licensed by the federal government and the ATF in particular.  In this case, the defendant was also charged with second-degree burglary, felony theft and malicious destruction of property in the Baltimore County District Court.  An arrest warrant was issued back in 2019 and it appears the warrant remains unserved.  If Baltimore County chooses to prosecute the defendant will be transported to Towson upon completion of his federal sentence.  This of course is assuming that he is not taken to Prince George’s County first.  It will be interesting to see if Baltimore County chooses to prosecute a defendant that has been sentenced for the same act in federal court, and then punished for violating his probation due to that act in another county.  The Blog will follow and may post an article in the future.  In the meantime, stay tuned for any new posts regarding gun and drug charges that are filed in federal court.

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packs-163497_1280-300x200This week in the Greenbelt federal courthouse a Baltimore man was sentenced to 151 months in prison followed by 3 years of supervised release for robbing a Hunt Valley bank.  The robbery occurred back in December of 2019 in northern Baltimore County, close to where the man reportedly worked.  The bank is located on York Road in Hunt Valley, an area with a relatively low crime rate.  According to facts presented at the plea, the man walked into the bank and handed the teller a note that demanded all the loose 100’s, 50’s and 20’s in the teller’s drawer.  The note also announced that a robbery was taking place, and that the man had a gun and would begin shooting if the teller did not meet his demands.  The teller complied with the demands and handed over $700 in U.S. currency to the suspect.  The 58-year old robber then fled the bank on foot without incident.  The robbery was captured on interior surveillance footage, which showed a clear image of the man’s face.  After the robbery the bank contacted law enforcement and circulated an internal alert to its employees with a picture of the suspect.

Five days after the robbery the suspect entered a different branch of the same bank that he robbed in order to make a deposit.  Apparently, the man held an account with the bank.  An employee recognized the man from the image in the internal alert and called law enforcement.  The man was arrested wearing the same clothes he had worn during the robbery just 5 days earlier, so it was not a stretch to say the government had a solid case.  It turns out that the defendant was also on supervised release for a prior bank robbery, which undoubtedly factored in to the overall sentence of 12.5 years in prison.  The defendant will likely serve about 10 years, but could be released sooner to a halfway house depending on the evolution of criminal justice reform over the next decade.

This case could have been prosecuted in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County by the State’s Attorney’s Office, but the fact that the defendant already had a federal bank robbery conviction made it an easy decision for the case to go federal.  Remember that federal prosecutors have jurisdiction to prosecute just about any bank robbery that occurs in the United States due to associations with the U.S. Treasury and FDIC insurance policies.  There is no information to say whether the man actually possessed a gun as outlined in his note, but it is reasonable to conclude he did not.  The man seemed to be an experienced (albeit unsuccessful bank robber) based on the fact that he asked for loose bills and knew that any actual display of force was unnecessary.  Loose bills are less likely to be fitted with tracking devices or dye packs, than stacks of cash.  Any stack of bills given to a robber by a teller would likely contain a discreet tracking device that is activated immediately upon movement outside the bank.

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714566_light_1-300x224Earlier this week two Palm Beach County men were arrested for allegedly breaking into two Wellington restaurants and stealing cash and gift cards.  PBSO originally received a call reporting burglaries at the two restaurants on Sunday morning, and responding officers observed smashed windows and ransacked cash registers.  A short time later PBSO received another call about a theft, but this time it was from their neighbors down in Broward County.  The Broward Sheriff’s Office apparently had one of their patrol cars go missing, and GPS pinged to a location in Palm Beach County.  Officers likely had no idea the two crimes were connected, but upon locating the stolen cop car and detaining the suspects the connection became clear.  Search incident to arrest revealed that the suspects possessed numerous gift cards from one of the burglarized restaurants, as well as cash and several suspected stolen credit cards.  The two suspects were taken to jail and booked on charges of burglary of an unoccupied structure, criminal mischief, grand theft of a motor vehicle and resisting arrest without violence.  One of the defendants, a 26-year old from Lake Worth, remains in custody, while the 30-year old defendant appears to have been released on bond.

It is unclear whether police have evidence that the two defendants actually stole the Broward police car, but both apparently admitted to being inside the vehicle.  Originally, they had fled from the scene on foot and were not arrested in the stolen car.  Upon being questioned, both reportedly denied any involvement in the burglary, though the gift cards and cash clearly gave police probable cause for the charges.  While both men are facing multiple felony charges, it appears that all the felonies are of the third-degree variety.  The incarcerated defendant is facing felony charges for corruption by threat against a public servant, in addition to the felony burglary, criminal mischief over $1,000 and grand theft charges.  Resisting an officer without violence is considered a first-degree misdemeanor under Florida law that is handled in county court unless there is an accompanying felony such as in this case.

The Blog will continue to track this case and may post a follow-up article in the future if anything newsworthy comes down from the courthouse.  It remains to be seen whether the pair will face any charges in Broward County, or whether the evidence recovered could lead to additional charges elsewhere.  The two suspected burglars should have been aware that all police cars and most commercial vehicles are equipped with GPS tracking systems that are extremely precise.  Once BSO realized that one of their vehicles went missing it was only a matter of minutes before it could be located.  It is unclear just how these defendants managed to come across a BSO patrol car, but details to this end will probably be released.  It’s certainly an embarrassing situation when a police force allows one of its vehicles to be stolen, which is exactly why it presents a compelling news article to readers.  If you or a loved one has been arrested or has an outstanding warrant for burglary, grand theft, resisting arrest or criminal mischief contact South Florida criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation.  Benjamin is available to meet and take on cases in the Treasure Coast and in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, and specializes in burglary and theft charges.  He has won numerous resisting arrest cases throughout South Florida and is also an experienced Maryland criminal lawyer who has successfully represented thousands of clients in charges ranging from DUI and drug distribution to murder and attempted murder.  Benjamin also specializes in firearm offenses such as illegal possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and carrying a concealed firearm.  Contact Benjamin at 954-543-0305 or 410-207-2598 to find out which defenses may be available in your case.

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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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