Borf Artist Dresses the Part for Court Appearance

After the hearing, a previously unseen
After the hearing, a previously unseen "Borf" tag was spotted on an old emergency call box at Fourth and E streets NW a block from the courthouse. (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)
By Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 24, 2005

Four months after his arrest, the accused graffiti outlaw known as Borf showed up for a court hearing in an unfortunate choice of attire: His coat, pants and shoes were all stained with paint. His black coat so resembled the one he wore in a newspaper feature about his exploits that the judge declared it evidence and ordered him to hand it over to the prosecution.

John Tsombikos, who has said in interviews that he used the pseudonym Borf to sign graffiti on scores of D.C. walls, signs and buildings, apparently felt no need to try to change that impression Friday in D.C. Superior Court. Besides the splotchy clothing, the 18-year-old had fresh scrapes on his neck that an investigator described as "consistent with nicks and scratches that graffiti artists receive when climbing fences."

His appearance raised suspicions that Borf is back in the tagging business, law enforcement officials said. Then came another sign: Shortly after the hearing, a block from the courthouse, investigators spotted a previously unseen "Borf" tag on an old emergency call box.

The clothing, the scratches and the tag were cited by prosecutors this week in an affidavit seeking a warrant to search the Great Falls house where Tsombikos lives with his parents, Kathleen Murphy and Konstantine Tsombikos.

Investigators searched the house on Arnon Meadow Road on Tuesday night, looking for rock-climbing equipment and utility blades, paints and other art supplies, according to the affidavit. They also sought hotel, money order and car rental receipts and cell phones, digital cameras, credit card records, bus and airline tickets, newspaper clippings and passports -- any of which, the affidavit says, could provide "potential evidence of a conspiracy" that might stretch to fellow taggers and other jurisdictions, "including New York, San Francisco, Italy, Greece and Paris."

Authorities declined to reveal yesterday what, if anything, they discovered at the house. They are required to file an inventory with the court in the next few days.

No one returned messages seeking comment yesterday afternoon at the Tsombikos house, the New York-based construction business of Konstantine Tsombikos or the offices of John Tsombikos's lawyer.

Tsombikos's clandestine existence as one of the region's most prolific graffiti taggers was described at length in The Washington Post on July 14, a day after he was arrested on Georgia Avenue NW and charged with defacing property, a misdemeanor. Last month, a grand jury indicted him on a felony charge of destruction of property, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $5,000 in fines. Tsombikos has been free on personal recognizance, with a trial scheduled Feb. 7.

In the news article, Tsombikos spoke of traveling by Greyhound bus with a friend to create graffiti in San Francisco and of spray-painting his distinctive designs -- often containing a young man's face or the image of a little girl, the Borf moniker and sayings such as "Grownups Are Obsolete" -- in Manhattan and Raleigh, N.C., as well. He was photographed next to graffiti, wearing a mask and a black hooded jacket like the one the judge confiscated.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, declined to say yesterday where the case is headed.

"Right now, no new charges have been filed, and this is an ongoing investigation, so it would be inappropriate at this time to comment further," Phillips said.

The affidavit, filed in Fairfax Circuit Court, speaks volumes.

It says Tsombikos has been interviewed on Web sites and admitted creating graffiti, sometimes while disguised. A rally at Dupont Circle after his arrest included people handing out paint and others spraying "Borf has not been caught" on placards, it says.

The affidavit also notes that numerous Borf-like images have been spotted since Tsombikos's arrest. It reveals that authorities have been monitoring his activities since his arrest -- even checking his trash.

Fairfax County police searched trash outside the Great Falls house in August and found "spray paint cans, several life-sized stencils and drawings of Borf, and New York Police Department patrol vehicle templates," the affidavit says.

D.C. officials have described Borf as a menace who has defaced many neighborhoods. According to the affidavit, the District's bill for cleaning up Borf-related graffiti has topped $40,000.

Judge Lynn Leibovitz has set a hearing for Dec. 7 to decide whether bond should be set for Tsombikos. She ordered him last week to stay out of the District, save for court appearances, until his trial.

Staff writer Tom Jackman contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company