Man, 62, arrested in thefts of luggage Ring allegedly operated more than a year at BWI, Maryland authorities say

September 04, 1996|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A Southwest Baltimore man was arrested yesterday and charged with stealing luggage from the baggage claim carousels at Baltimore-Washington International Airport as part of what police said was a ring operating for more than a year.

Norman G. Alt, 62, of the 1200 block of James St. was charged with 10 counts of felony theft and two counts of conspiracy to commit theft. He was released on $7,500 bond.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police said they are unsure of how much luggage was taken, but that they found 40 pieces of luggage filled with jewelry, clothing, books and personal items in a raid at Alt's house July 17.

They delayed making an arrest until they matched items seized in the raid with reports filed by passengers who said their luggage was stolen, said Lori Vidil, a police spokeswoman.

Alt was arrested at a Baltimore bar at 10: 30 a.m. yesterday after police found enough luggage owners to claim their valuables.

Kerry Brandt, another police spokeswoman, said "several" people were involved in the alleged ring, but would not say how many. Brandt would not say who authorities believe is the leader.

"We do suspect that other people are involved but there is not sufficient evidence to charge anyone else," she said. "We feel that we successfully shut down what they were doing."

The thieves mingled with passengers from flights that had just landed, picked luggage off baggage carousels and walked out, Vidil said. Vidil said some valuable items were kept and other items were sold immediately, but police did not have a value for the stolen merchandise.

Brandt said the transportation authority police began investigating the alleged ring late last summer after police saw a steady increase in reports of bags being stolen.

By year's end, 155 people had reported their luggage stolen. Police have received 55 reports this year.

Interviews with witnesses and informants led police to Alt, and Baltimore officers raided his home in July.

Branch said it is impossible to tell how many bags were stolen.

"A lot of passengers think their baggage is lost when, in this case, it may have been stolen," Brandt said. "If they tell the airlines, our police won't know about it."

Although some airports across the nation have airline representatives who check passengers' bags to make sure they are carrying their own luggage, that is not the case at BWI.

No transportation authority police are stationed at the claim area, and rarely does anyone check the tickets on luggage.

"The baggage claim area is run completely by the airlines," Brandt said, adding that police may patrol the area just as any other area of the airport. "That's the airlines and the [Federal Aviation Administration's] responsibility," she said.

Tara Hamilton, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority which operates Dulles International and National airports, said the same policy is followed at those airports.

"I've never taken anything that belonged to another person in my life, and it just makes me angry that there are people who do that," said Carolyn Burridge, who lost her mother's diamond pendant appraised at $11,500 when her luggage disappeared from BWI on June 2.

Burridge, who operates an Annapolis lobbying firm, was bumped from a USAir flight from Palm Beach, Fla., to Baltimore, but her luggage went ahead of her. She said all three bags arrived and sat, unprotected, in the baggage claim area for five hours.

Police have told her they believe one of the bags was stolen.

She still has hope she will find the pendant. She is offering a $5,000 reward for its return and has faxed more than 100 letters to Baltimore and Washington area pawn shops.

"It was my mother's and I want it back," she said. "I might not get it back, but I'm going to keep trying."

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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