Correction: This article was changed to indicate the crimes involved thefts from vehicles, not robberies, as it was originally worded.
After an hour’s walk along the C&O Canal two years ago, Deborah Beers and her husband returned to their car to find the window broken and her handbag stolen.
The thief ran up several thousand dollars on her credit cards, said Beers, a lawyer who is the mayor of Glen Echo. She had to cancel her checking account and the cards. And since her keys also were taken, “we had to change the locks to the house, which cost a small fortune,” she said.
The thief also took her Social Security card, which she hasn’t recovered. “That still nags at me. I don’t know who has it,” Beers said.
She reported the theft but then didn’t hear from the police for almost a year, she said. She doubted that such a minor property crime was high on their agenda, despite all the pain and inconvenience it caused her.
But Montgomery County police were already hard on the case they would come to attribute to a “one-man crime spree.”
Four miles away from the parking lot where the car had been broken into, video footage from a Safeway in Potomac captured a man dressed in a long-sleeved white polo shirt buying Purina Cat Chow and Visa gift cards with Beers’s credit cards that day.
Police identified him as Michael Bernard Dorsey, 47, a clean-cut man who lived in Silver Spring with his wife and would later say that he worked at a country club and operated his own business.
Juries have now convicted Dorsey of 20 counts of theft from vehicles, identity theft and other fraud-related charges in five separate trials, the last of which took place Thursday. If he served the maximum penalty for each charge consecutively, Dorsey would face 581 / 2 years in prison. His first sentencing will be in April.
The case began almost two years ago. Shortly before the theft from Beers’s car in March 2011, police had received a call about a theft from a station wagon at the Potomac Tennis Club. A person had taken a $1,000 Anya Hindmarch purse and credit cards. One of the cards was used to buy a $200 American Express gift card.
Shortly thereafter, the thief made a critical mistake, calling American Express four times from his cellphone to check the balance on the card, according to Montgomery County Assistant State’s Attorney Steve Chaikin. Security camera footage gave police an image of a man, too.
“It was an exciting moment, because we now had an individual to target,” said Stephen Cohen, one of the detectives who first investigated.
At the end of April, police investigated a theft from a 2011 Toyota Camry on MacArthur Boulevard in which someone stole more than $1,000 worth of property. The cards used in that case were traced to purchases made in a Safeway and a Rite Aid near Falls and River roads in Potomac.
Police got a picture there, too — of Dorsey, wearing a white, hooded jacket, long-sleeved collared shirt and black sunglasses.
“We had identified him early on,” Cohen said, “[but] in these kinds of cases, we are always behind the ball, sometimes as much as two months. We had to be able to tie him to all of the crimes.”
By late September 2011, police were keeping an eye on Dorsey, hoping to catch him in the act. One detective said officers spent three weeks watching him “pretty consistently.”
Earlier that month, police had received a call about thefts from vehicles in Potomac. A Louis Vuitton handbag had been stolen, along with some thumb drives and sunglasses. A witness had seen a white Cadillac Escalade peeling out of the parking lot and later recalled a license plate number that was one digit off from Dorsey’s, Chaikin said.
In October, police watched Dorsey remove two bags from a car at a medical facility in Bethesda, drive away and then toss them on the side of the road.
That was when police arrested him. They eventually charged him with 14 thefts from vehicles, but they believe they could tie him to a total of 26 cases.
Dorsey’s wife, police said, had no idea of his activities. By that point, he had stolen property, committed fraud and caused damage totaling well over $25,000, Chaikin said. When police searched his home in Silver Spring, they found dozens of items he had been seen wearing in videos or had stolen from victims.
At his last trial Thursday, Dorsey’s father, also named Michael Bernard Dorsey, said his son had a history of theft.
The elder Dorsey, 67, said Michael’s mother died in 1986, when his son was a teenager. Of his four children, Dorsey is the only one who has had trouble with the law, the father said, calling the incidents “heartbreaking.”
The elder Dorsey said that he hadn’t expected the more recent charges against his son, especially after he married a few years ago. “He gave me the impression with family and all that he was going straight,” he said.
Police said Dorsey’s actions, while nonviolent, were the behavior of a career criminal who had “never learned.”
Beers concluded simply: “I’m relieved he got caught and that he’ll be off the street.”