Wounded officer, in surgery, 'hit' again Theft said to occur during the operation

ex-employee charged

September 28, 1995|By Michael James | Michael James,SUN STAFF

A former nursing assistant at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center was charged yesterday with ringing up more than $15,000 worth of purchases on credit card numbers taken from a police officer undergoing surgery for three bullet wounds suffered in the line of duty.

The assistant scribbled down James E. Beck's credit card and Social Security numbers as the Baltimore County officer clung to life on an operating table with wounds received in a Halloween 1993 attack, U.S. Secret Service agents reported.

"While he lay severely injured and bleeding in the emergency room, his personal identifier numbers were copied," said Steve Mason, head of the Baltimore office of the Secret Service, which investigates unauthorized use of personal identification numbers.

Over the next few months, while Officer Beck underwent two life-threatening operations, the attendant used the information to get several credit cards in the officer's name and bought $15,000 to $20,000 worth of electronics merchandise, Agent Mason said.

Arrested yesterday during a morning raid at his residence in the 800 block of N. Charles St. was John Wayne Cunningham, 43, who, Secret Service agents said, no longer works at the hospital. He was charged with felony theft and filing false applications, Agent Mason said.

During the raid, agents found several boxes in which televisions, stereos and videocassette recorders had been delivered. The electronics equipment was believed to have been sold as part of a fencing operation, investigators said.

Mr. Beck, 42, survived his injuries and is now retired from the police force. Doctors at Shock Trauma reported that the officer -- shot in the chest and stomach by a motorist he pulled over during a robbery investigation -- arrived at the hospital in grave condition.

One shot fractured a rib, sending bullet fragments into the officer's bowels and causing a significant amount of bleeding. After two operations, the officer's health continued to falter. As a last resort, doctors used an experimental machine to recirculate Officer Beck's blood through an oxygenator -- and he began to recover.

Mr. Beck, who lists an address in Carroll County, couldn't be reached yesterday. One of his former fellow officers, who asked not to be identified, said Mr. Beck's hearing is severely impaired because of his health problems and he still has trouble walking.

"This is just a horrible thing to have happen on top of everything else. To be violated while you're laying nearly on your death bed in a world-renouned hospital. . . . it's just not going to be easy for him to accept," the officer said.

A spokesman at Shock Trauma, where many Baltimore-area police officers are treated for bullet wounds, refused to comment yesterday, saying that employment history is kept confidential.

Investigators said they learned of the unlawful use of the credit card numbers shortly after Mr. Beck returned home after more than two months in hospitals. The officer was attempting to get his life back in order when he discovered that someone had run up huge bills on his credit cards, a source said.

Cpl. Kevin B. Novak, a Baltimore County police spokesman, was shocked to hear of the charges. "First, Scott Kern and now this," he said.

Officer Scott Michael Kern was killed Oct. 7, 1994, in an alcohol-related auto accident after celebrating his first week on the Baltimore County police force. Shortly after his body was taken to the state medical examiner's office in Baltimore, someone stole the purple and tan Nike hiking boots off his feet.

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