Police reported yesterday that they are gradually rounding up people allegedly from a band of video bandits that has smashed its way into at least 20 stores in Maryland -- often driving stolen cars through plate glass windows to make off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of video recorders.
Maryland state police in St. Mary's and Charles counties and Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Annapolis police are all involved in the current investigation, in which four people have been arrested. The gang's ringleaders, probably based in Prince George's, remain at large, according to investigators.
Anne Arundel County police spokesman Richard Molloy said the video bandits are believed to have struck in seven Maryland counties, and may even have operated in the District and northern Virginia. Specifically, he pointed to robberies at 14 video stores in Anne Arundel since July. Other police officials blamed the group for robberies at two video stores and a jewelry store in St. Mary's County and one video store in Calvert County that has been hit three times.
"They've taken hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of stuff -- besides property damage," said Molloy.
"What they'll do is steal a car, usually Japanese -- a Toyota, Datsun or Subaru -- and back that through the store window," Molloy said. "Then they'll pop the trunk open and throw in as many video recorders as they can. It takes less than 30 seconds.
"In other cases they couldn't drive the car in because there was a wall at the base of the window. They'd take a jack out of the car, and throw it through the plate glass window."
Immediately after the last incident -- a Thursday midnight robbery at the Calvert County store, Video Plus in Dunkirk -- state police issued a look-out for a small Japanese car used in the robbery that was believed to be headed toward Prince George's County, according to state police Sgt. Tom Hejl.
A short time later, he said, a Prince George's County police officer followed a Japanese car matching a description of a stolen car. used in the robbery. The car stopped at a gas station in Seat Pleasant, he said, where the officer noticed video equipment in the rear of the car. Two people in the car, Terrence Lamar Ingram, 21, of Seat Pleasant, and a juvenile, were arrested and charged with breaking and entering, according to Hejl.
Annapolis police arrested a District man, identified only as Alphonso King, 18, on Jan. 29 and charged him with breaking and entering and auto theft after a robbery at an Eastport video store. On Monday night, Anne Arundel police arrested a 16-year-old from Prince George's County, who they say is a suspect in eight video shop break-ins in Anne Arundel.
Molloy said detectives expect to make more arrests. "They know of at least two more, who are considered the ring-leaders," who possibly recruited others to do the actual break-ins, Molloy said. "The ones we've caught really haven't been involved in all of them."
Michael Duran, the video shop manager from Dunkirk, said the thieves seem to be experts. The three times they hit his store, he said, they set off alarms when they entered but police arrived at his store to find nothing but empty shelves and a car jack lying in the middle of broken glass. Duran said police call him each time, and he goes to the store to organize the clean-up and window repairs.
"The phone ran at 2 the other morning, and I jumped up, put on my clothes, and found out it was the wrong number," he said. "Everyone in the video business is kind of on edge."