Police officer charged with trailer theft Informant's tip leads authorities to make arrest

4-year-old crime

Dealer, victim of the theft, calls officer a frequent customer

April 01, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

A tip from a confidential informant led to the arrest Friday of a 15-year county police veteran on charges stemming from the theft four years ago of a motorcycle trailer from a Brooklyn Park motorcycle dealership.

The arrest of Officer James Robert Haskell, 35, of the 400 block of Eastwood Court in Severna Park, came two years after the officer was identified by state police as a suspect in the theft from Cycle World in the 5800 block of Ritchie Highway.

Haskell was charged with felony theft. He is on administrative leave without pay from the department. If convicted, he could receive a $1,000 fine and 15 years in prison.

The news came as a shock to Rick Johns, the Cycle World manager who first reported the trailer missing. He said Haskell was a frequent customer at the store.

"He was just in here a week or two ago shopping with his kids," said Johns, who added the officer was a motocross fan who bought dirt bikes, parts, and equipment from the store. "You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard about it because I've known the guy for years."

Officers who worked with Haskell described him as "a great guy," and most said they were shocked that he had been charged.

A man who answered the door at the brick-front, two-story home where Haskell and his family live shut the door in a reporter's face. A brown Chevrolet pickup truck and a personal watercraft on a Karavan trailer were parked in the driveway.

Neighbors in the quiet, tree-lined court declined to comment.

According to court documents, a confidential informant who supplied state police information on a motorcycle theft ring in 1994 told a state trooper that a county police officer let two men use his truck to steal a Load-Rite trailer from Cycle World the night of Sept. 7, 1993.

The $895 trailer was tied to a pole in front of the store.

The informant said the officer removed the vehicle identification number (VIN) plate from an old trailer that he owned and attached it to the stolen trailer, then used that trailer to tote his motorcycles, according to court records.

State police turned over the information to county officers in March 1995. Four months later, county police caught up with one of the men allegedly involved in the theft, searched his home and found what was later identified as Haskell's old trailer in the man's yard, court records show. The VIN plate had been removed from the trailer, and police seized it.

Later that day, Sgt. James Standiford, then a supervisor of the county police auto theft unit, went to Haskell's home and asked to inspect his trailer. Haskell told Standiford the trailer was not there, but he would let him see it later that day, according to court records.

But instead of showing up with the trailer, Haskell called Standiford and told him he had its VIN plate and registration plates. The sergeant asked to see the trailer again, but the man said he did not have it, according to the records.

The next day, Standiford received a Federal Express package from Haskell's lawyer with the VIN plate and the registration plate for the trailer. The lawyer, who was not identified in court documents, arranged to have the trailer dropped off at police headquarters, the documents say.

Standiford inspected the trailer and found all the VIN plates had been removed. He also found an area where a VIN plate had been installed and then removed, as the informant had said.

Johns was brought to headquarters to identify it, according to court records. Johns told police that when the trailer was stolen, Cycle World was the only dealer in Maryland that sold the Load-Rite brand trailer.

County police turned the information into the state's attorney's office, according to public information supervisor Sgt. Jeff Kelly. But the charges were held until the completion of the state police investigation.

Pub Date: 4/01/97

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