A fired baggage handler who admitted stealing pricey electronics and other reminders of home from the luggage of service members bound for overseas duty was ordered yesterday to spend 18 months in jail -- three times the state guidelines -- by a judge who called the thefts "pure greed."
Michael Harlee, 23, of Baltimore was the second former baggage handler at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport sentenced in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court in what police have described as a theft scheme targeting service members and international travelers, stealing thousands of valuables from checked luggage. More than 100 items were seized from Harlee, and prosecutors said investigators likened his home to an electronics store.
About 700 items recovered still have not been returned to their owners, said Assistant State's Attorney Michael Dunty.
He said the thefts last year of CDs, laptop computers, digital cameras, DVDs, watches, flashlights and video games represent far more than their monetary value to the service members being deployed in war zones. They held photos of family, the means to send e-mail home, ways to while away off-hours -- and survival tools such as flashlights, compasses and the like.
The sentence meted out by Judge Joseph P. Manck was three times the state sentencing guidelines, which recommended up to six months in jail, and more than a probation officer's recommendation for a suspended sentence and community service. Manck sentenced Harlee to four years, then suspended all but 18 months, and added three years of probation.
In July, Shaka Nesta Watson, 20, was sentenced to two years in prison for his role. The third suspect, Derek Jerod Murray, 20, of Glen Burnie, is scheduled to be tried next year.
Timothy Dixon, Harlee's lawyer, sought a "fair sentence," noting Harlee cooperated with police and worked in a climate in which stealing was rampant. He said his client holds an associate degree from Tesst College of Technology in Baltimore and was pursuing a bachelor's degree at Morgan State University until recently. Apologizing, Harlee said he recently has volunteered at a veterans hospital. Eight friends and relatives said the crime was an aberration for a young man who helps care for his mother and grandmother.
But Dunty berated Harlee for seeking freedom, given that he stole from soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, service members who knew that "the last U.S. citizen who touched their bags stole from them." He said he had no victims in court because they are overseas or cannot be located. Reporting the theft was frustrating enough: One serviceman, David Jennings, discovered his laptop was stolen when he arrived in Kuwait. The police report had to be filed in Germany, but he also had to contact military officials in North Carolina as well as family in Idaho and obtain his purchase receipt, which was in storage in Germany, Dunty said.
Speaking about Harlee's education, Dunty noted that one laptop stolen had a program loaded on it to try to mask ownership records.