A District man who authorities say targeted residents of the Dupont Circle neighborhood was sentenced Friday to 18 months in prison for repeatedly stealing packages from residents’ doorsteps since the 1980s.
Residents of the Northwest Washington neighborhood had expressed frustration with 60-year-old Wayne Bridgeforth after he had been arrested several times for stealing items from residents. Prosecutors said Bridgeforth, who is homeless, has had numerous mail-theft arrests since 1984, with nine previous convictions. Court records note arrests dating back to 1978.
In August, Bridgeforth was accused of stealing a package from a resident. Following his arrest, a judge released Bridgeforth from jail but ordered him to stay out of the Dupont Circle area. A month later, he was arrested again in the neighborhood and was charged with violating the judge’s order.
In October, Bridgeforth pleaded guilty to second-degree theft in the case, which prosecutors upgraded to a felony because the defendant had two or more prior theft convictions.
Mike Silverstein, who has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years, told D.C. Superior Court Judge Neal E. Kravitz that Bridgeforth was not only stealing packages of clothes and toys that were delivered by the U.S. Postal Service or FedEx, but also pocketing medication delivered to the sick or elderly.
“When these things occur, they shatter our lives. He wasn’t just taking a sweater,” Silverstein said.
Silverstein blamed the District’s judicial system for Bridgeforth’s repeated arrests.
“The system itself is broke,” he said.
Standing next to his attorney and wearing an orange D.C. jail jumpsuit, Bridgeforth apologized to the residents of the neighborhood. He blamed his actions on his 20-to-30-year cocaine habit.
“I have a drug addiction, and my drug addiction created this monster,” he said.
Bridgeforth said that he focuses on the neighborhood because it is where he grew up. He said his parents at one time owned a house there. Now homeless, he said he often stays at a church or McDonald’s in the neighborhood.
Bridgeforth also blamed other homeless individuals who congregate in the Dupont Circle park for many of the stolen items.
Kravitz called Bridgeforth’s case “unusual and difficult,” saying that for similar crimes most people are charged with misdemeanors that would not warrant a prison sentence and are often placed on probation. But Bridgeforth, he said, had been before the courts “many, many times before.”
Kravitz sentenced Bridgeforth to the mandatory minimum one-year sentence for theft, plus six months for violating the stay-away order.
In addition to the prison sentence, Kravitz also ordered treatment for drug abuse and mental-health issues, and placed Bridgeforth on three years of supervisory release. Bridgeforth also faces additional prison time as a result of violating the terms of his parole in his prior cases. Most egregious, Kravitz said, was that Bridgeforth focused his crime on one particular neighborhood.
“Residents have a right not to be preyed upon,” the judge said. “It is an intrusion of the peace of life of living in this city of which no one should have to suffer.”