With Guilty Plea, Borf to Try the Art of Graffiti Cleanup

In May, Borf posed in disguise in front of his work on U Street NW.
In May, Borf posed in disguise in front of his work on U Street NW. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Borf, the notorious graffiti vandal who has left his mark all over the District, might want to try a new tag:


Looking little like the rebel he fashions himself as, John Tsombikos, aka Borf, stood in D.C. Superior Court yesterday in a blue blazer and khakis and admitted to defacing a Howard University building over the summer with his ubiquitous moniker.

The preppy attire of the former art student was quite a turnabout for the 18-year-old from Great Falls, who showed up in court three weeks ago in paint-stained clothes that led authorities to suspect he was back in the spray-painting business.

Not only did he 'fess up in court, but Tsombikos also agreed to give up the vandalism that made him a hero to other "taggers," a villain to property owners and a constant source of frustration for the city's graffiti cleanup crews. And, as part of a penalty that could include a prison term, he agreed to help clean up the mess he created.

From a sign above the Roosevelt Bridge to the building above a Connecticut Avenue Cosi, Borf struck with greater frequency and more splash than anyone since the prolific Cool Disco Dan in the 1980s, authorities said.

"He was very good at what he did," said Dennis Butler, the D.C. public works official in charge of abating such nuisances, "but it was unwanted art."

And there was lots of it.

"In the last few years, there's been no one like Borf," Butler said.

In all, the teenager vandalized perhaps 100 locations, Butler said, and his handiwork -- or that of the copycats he inspired -- still dots the city. Some graffiti is quite detailed. Other work, such as the name "Borf" in white spray paint on a dumpster in front of rowhouses in the 1500 block of R Street NW, shows less flair. No matter how it looks, the work has cost tens of thousands of dollars to clean up.

If District officials have their way, there won't be anyone like Borf for a while.

With his attorney at his side, Tsombikos pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of felony destruction of property, a charge that carries a maximum prison term of 10 years and a fine of as much as $5,000. As is customary at plea hearings, Tsombikos answered routine questions but otherwise did not address the behavior that landed him in court. He will be given an opportunity to do so at his sentencing Feb. 9.

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