12 people indicted over book theft from Pr. George's libraries

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Prince George's County grand jury has indicted a dozen people on felony theft charges, accusing them of collectively stealing almost $90,000 worth of books from county public libraries, authorities said yesterday.

In a news conference in front of county library headquarters in Hyattsville, State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said the alleged thieves weren't looking to expand their intellectual horizons. The suspects pilfered the books to line their pockets, reselling them to bookstores or on the Internet, Ivey said.

Many of the stolen books are college textbooks, which sell for as much as $200 apiece, Ivey said.

"It's a fair amount of money if you can move enough books," Ivey said.

Books were stolen from 12 of the county's 18 public library branches, officials said.

Investigators think at least three of the alleged thieves were working together and are trying to determine whether the group was bigger, said a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because the probe is ongoing.

The 12 suspects are all from Maryland, and half are from Baltimore or nearby areas. Only one defendant, Bowie resident Robert T. Nash, 28, is from Prince George's, officials said.

Ivey and other law enforcement officials said the alleged thieves obtained library cards using their real names, checked out large numbers of books, then sold them instead of returning them. None of the stolen books have been recovered, Ivey said.

"This is a theft from a public trust that all of us take advantage of, especially college students," Ivey said.

Most of the books were checked out between November 2008 and last July, authorities said.

The thieves took advantage of the fact that the county library system allows individuals to check out as many as 75 items -- books, DVDS and CDs -- at a time, officials said.

Heather R. Harris, 30, of Essex is accused of stealing 74 books, worth $9,428, in November 2008.

Officials said some defendants are facing charges or are under investigation for similar offenses in Baltimore and Baltimore and Harford counties.

Camila Alire, president of the American Library Association, said libraries across the country experience theft on a daily basis, "but not to the extent of what's happened in Prince George's County."

Detective Anthony Guerreiro of the Hyattsville Police Department initiated the investigation into the Prince George's thefts in January after a librarian reported suspected thefts, officials said.

In 2005, a woman and her boyfriend pleaded guilty to charges of felony theft after they acknowledged stealing almost 500 books from county libraries. The two were ordered to pay $20,000 in restitution to the library system.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company