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Articles Posted in Theft Crimes

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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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street-lamp-4843331_1280-300x200Two suspects have been charged after months of investigation into a series of copper wire thefts from light poles along the Baltimore Beltway.  Since April law enforcement has been investigating as many as four separate incidents where copper wire was forcibly removed from the state-owned poles lining the travel lanes of 695.  On the night the defendants were arrested, troopers responded to the Falls Road exit in the Lutherville-Timonium area of Baltimore County at around 4 in the morning.  It appears that the pair were caught in the act and eventually taken into custody without incident.  Following their arrest, the criminal investigations division of MSP along with help from the State Highway Administration connected the defendants to the three other thefts of similar nature.  According to state officials, the four thefts caused approximately $66k in damage to the existing poles.  As a result of the value of the damage and the cost of replacement, both defendants are facing multiple felony theft charges, as well as malicious destruction of property over $1,000.  The defendants are set to appear in the Essex District Court on September 3 for their trials, but there is a good chance this date could be pushed back, or that the cases will be moved to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.

This recent arrest was hardly the first run in with the law for either defendant.  In fact, the pair are co-defendants in a pending theft with similar facts in Howard County.  One of the defendants actually has 4 open cases in multiple jurisdictions including Anne Arundel County, Harford County, Howard County and this Baltimore County case.  It also looks like the 45-year old Baltimore City man is facing a violation of probation for a Glen Burnie drug possession case.  The defendants look to have avoided the most serious theft charge of theft over $100k in this particular case, but still face up to 10 years in prison for each count of theft more than $25k.  They also could be looking at additional time for malicious destruction of property related to the damage caused to the light posts.  Both also face theft scheme charges for participating in multiple criminal acts, and will likely have thousands of dollars in restitution payments should they be found guilty.  One of the defendants is out of custody, while the other remains in the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson on a no bail hold.  The judge likely considered this defendant was both a flight risk and a danger to the community based on his prior record and multiple pending charges.

The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post a follow up article in the future if anything newsworthy occurs in the case.  Both defendants face an uphill battle in this case based on their prior criminal record, and if convicted, the judge could be especially harsh considering the crimes were committed during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Benjamin Herbst is a Maryland criminal defense lawyer who specializes in theft charges in state and federal court.  He also handles in malicious destruction of property cases, and has successfully defended numerous clients in Baltimore County, Howard County, Harford County, Anne Arundel County and all other Maryland jurisdictions.  If you have a question about a criminal case feel free to call Benjamin anytime at 410-207-2598 for a no obligation consultation.  It is too much of a gamble to walk into criminal court without an experienced lawyer by your side, and there is no risk in speaking with Benjamin to see what defenses may be available in your case.

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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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