Man sentenced for stealing from luggage

Former baggage handler to serve 2 years in prison

July 08, 2005|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A former baggage handler at Baltimore-Washington International Airport admitted yesterday to stealing CDs, cameras and other items from the luggage of travelers - many of them soldiers serving overseas - and was chided by a judge who imposed a sentence in excess of state guidelines.

Shaka Nesta Watson, 20, was ordered to serve two years in prison for his role in a ring that is suspected of stealing thousands of dollars worth of electronics and military-related items from international travelers during 2004.

Watson pleaded guilty to one count of felony theft of a laptop computer from a civilian Air Canada traveler in a deal that Anne Arundel County prosecutors said they made because of the difficulty of bringing soldiers home from Afghanistan and Iraq to testify.

Calling the crime "appalling," Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Michele D. Jaklitsch told Watson: "You single-handedly disrupted the lives of many in the military at a time when they are the most vulnerable."

She chided him for making other travelers feel less secure. Jaklitsch sentenced him to four years in prison, but suspended half of the term and added three years of supervised probation. The sentence tops state guidelines, which recommend no more than six months in jail.

Maryland Transportation Authority Police and prosecutors said they have hundreds of items they would like to reunite with owners - if only they knew who they are.

Watson, of Baltimore, said he needed the money and sought probation for his role in what authorities say was a three-man operation that stole more than 1,000 items from international travelers. The military uses BWI as a hub.

Watson's sentence came after an emotional request for incarceration by Assistant State's Attorney Michael J. Dunty.

"As he stands here and asks for that freedom, the people that he stole from are ... fighting for that freedom," Dunty told Jaklitsch. He said Watson already got a break from prosecutors, who did not charge him in thefts from five servicemen whose goods they had linked to him.

Officials seized tens of thousands of dollars in electronics from Watson in December - and said they suspected that hundreds of servicemen may have been among the victims.

More than 500 CDs, more than 200 DVDs, watches, digital cameras, laptop computers and game players were in the haul, according to a list of items Watson is to forfeit. The list also includes a military compass, knives and multipurpose tools. It does not include items seized in connection with the other two baggage handlers charged.

Watson apologized in court.

In his confession, Watson wrote that he realized the "stupidity of my actions. I apologize to the men and women of the United States military. I only did it too [sic] get some money to help my girlfriend and I with our financial situations, which doesn't make my actions okay but like I said I apologize."

Watson's deal calls for him to testify against Michael Harlee, 23, of Baltimore and Derek Jerod Murray, 20, of Glen Burnie, who are scheduled for trials in September. All three men worked for Signature Flight Support, which has baggage handling contracts with several airlines.

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