Borf Gets Month in Jail And Rebuke for Graffiti

By Henri E. Cauvin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 10, 2006

The teenage graffiti vandal known as Borf got tagged yesterday -- with 30 days in the D.C. jail and a dressing-down that no one in the courtroom will soon forget.

Borf, aka John Tsombikos, chose not to address the judge who was deciding his fate. But D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz had a lot to say to the young anarchist from Northern Virginia. She didn't paint a pretty picture.

"You profess to despise rich people," she said. "You profess to despise the faceless, nameless forms of government that oppress. That's what you've become. That's what you are. You're a rich kid who comes into Washington and defaces property because you feel like it. It's not fair. It's not right."

Prolific like few local taggers before him, the 18-year-old Tsombikos left the Borf mark at dozens of places all over the District, from daring, eye-catching expositions such as the tagging of a wall above a Cosi on Connecticut Avenue to cruder, less memorable efforts such as the spray-painting of a dumpster on a side street.

The moniker, prosecutors said, was the nickname of a friend who killed himself in October 2003 in Silver Spring, and references in court to a confidential pre-sentence report on Tsombikos suggested that he has been deeply troubled by his friend's death.

Whatever the inspiration, the tag seemed to be everywhere for a time, to the frustration of property owners, police and city workers responsible for cleaning up graffiti. The judge said there was no justification for it.

"That's not artistic expression," she said. "That is not political expression. That is not grief therapy. That is vandalism."

Caught early one morning last summer as he defaced a Howard University building, Tsombikos was charged with destruction of property. The arrest and subsequent media attention seemed to heighten his notoriety. Copycats emerged, eager to fill the breach.

In December, he pleaded guilty to the felony charge. Yesterday, the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Cynthia Wright, urged the judge to lock him up. It was an unusual request for a first-time offender in a property crime.

But the judge did not need much convincing. What mattered to Leibovitz -- and what Tsombikos seemed not to understand -- was that ordinary people had been affected by the mess he created.

"It's not about whether you want to express yourself," she said. "Washington, D.C., is not a playground that was built for your self-expression. It's a place where people, real people, live and care about their communities."

Nothing that took place in the months before he pleaded guilty in December and nothing that has happened since seems to have awakened him to that fact, she said.

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