Jessup man arrested, charged in auto break-in

Police tie credit card use to one in series of thefts from cars at park

March 15, 2001|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County police have arrested a Jessup man they say is responsible for at least one in a string of about 50 car break-ins at Centennial Park since summer.

Luis Gustavo Rivera, 32, of the 8300 block of Ari Court was charged late last week with 26 counts of theft, forgery, uttering a false document, using a stolen credit card and burglary. As to the possibility of charges stemming from other thefts at the park, police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said yesterday that officers are in the early stages of their investigation.

"It certainly is possible that we will arrest additional suspects, and, of course, it is possible we will charge this suspect with additional crimes," she said. "We just don't know yet how many this particular suspect is responsible for."

The spate of break-ins at the popular site prompted park employees to distribute fliers and post signs warning of the thefts and cautioning park users not to leave valuables in their cars. Police and park rangers also increased patrols and set up surveillance in an attempt to catch thieves, park ranger Neal Hollingshead said.

"We had a few suspicious subjects, but we haven't actually caught anybody breaking windows or breaking into a vehicle," he said. "Since day one, we stepped up patrols, but it's hard to be everywhere."

The last theft occurred about two weeks ago, he said.

In many cases, the thief or thieves used a "slim jim" to break into the car and took one or two credit cards but left the wallet or purse behind, Llewellyn said. Victims might not have realized anything was missing, and by the time they did the thieves had already used the cards. Hollingshead said that in some cases, thieves smashed car windows to break in.

Rivera's arrest came after police, alerted to a theft last month, identified him through a video surveillance tape from the Target store in Largo. Rivera is accused of spending more than $400 at Target - the last stop in the alleged six-hour spree - on items including towels and boxer shorts, according to charging documents.

Earlier in the day, the credit cards were used on more expensive merchandise, including two laptop computers and a digital camera, according to the documents. In all, Rivera is accused of using two stolen credit cards to rack up more than $7,800 in charges at seven stores in Howard and Prince George's counties, according to court documents.

A search of his apartment turned up some of the items bought with the stolen credit cards, police said.

He was released Tuesday after posting $10,000 bond and is scheduled to appear in court May 10.

Rivera was recently arrested in Calvert County for "the same type of offenses," according to charging documents.

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