Five warehouse employees have been charged with stealing computer equipment valued at between $2.5 million and $3 million over the past two years from a Columbia distribution center where they work.
Warrants charging five employees of the AT&T Network Systems warehouse, in the 9300 block of Gerwig Lane in Columbia, with felony theft have been filed in District Court, but Howard County police refused to release their names until the suspects are rounded up. Others also may be charged, police said.
"There was little to no supervision at nighttime, and they were walking out the front and back doors with computer equipment," said Detective Pfc. Frank O. Lilly, who investigated the thefts reported by AT&T security officials. "It was like a little kid going in an empty candy shop."
The detective said one of the suspects had a pickup truck and drove up to a loading dock to pick up the stolen equipment. He said two of the five suspects were selling the computers and equipment, while the others were using it themselves.
"It was just a handful of the warehouse employees who saw an opportunity," Detective Lilly said yesterday. He added that there had been a "poor inventory" system in place when the thefts began in late 1988.
AT&T security officials contacted police in August after concluding there were major thefts from the warehouse. Security officials launched an investigation when they were told about employees walking around the warehouse flashing wads of money.
In one instance, one of the suspects installed stolen computer equipment in a Baptist church in Baltimore, telling church leaders the equipment was on loan from AT&T, the detective said.
So far, Detective Lilly said, police have recovered $70,000 in computer equipment and believe that significant amounts of additional computer gear have been hidden.
When it became known that police were investigating the thefts, "computer equipment began to miraculously show up" at the warehouse, said Detective Lilly.