Andrew Palmer (Baltimore Sun )
He ate buffalo wings and drank nine Blue Moon drafts at Burke's Cafe. At Shucker's, he washed down a pound of steamed shrimp with three glasses of Tanqueray Gin, two Coronas, a Heineken and a Johnny Walker Black Label scotch.
Day after day, year after year, Andrew Palmer dined at restaurants all over Baltimore and beyond, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore and St. Mary's counties. He even traveled as far south as Florida and sampled restaurants there.
His tastes ran the gamut: a Chinese joint in Fells Point one day, the upscale Capital Grille at the Inner Harbor another.
Palmer ate modestly and drank aggressively. Restaurant managers described the 43-year-old as shabbily dressed but cordial and relaxed. He didn't tip. Worse: He didn't pay. To escape his bill, which was usually under $100, police said, he frequently feigned a seizure, was rushed to the hospital and then taken to a jail cell.
Once, police found him rolling from side to side and spitting on the floor of a crowded restaurant.
"He's been around the city, and he's eaten very well," said Assistant State's Attorney Scott Richman, who prosecuted Palmer this month.
The frequent diner is now serving an 18-month sentence after pleading guilty to a theft scheme charge, in which prosecutors consolidated six of his latest cases in order to persuade a judge that Palmer needed to spend more time behind bars than the 90 days to which he had been accustomed.
In court papers, Baltimore police and prosecutors describe Palmer as a prolific petty criminal who has amassed more than 80 arrests and 40 convictions since 1985, the overwhelming majority for non-violent theft-of-service counts.
Richman thought he was dealing with a routine theft when he first reviewed the arrest report from the April 26 unpaid bill of $51.85 at Burke's. Then he started looking through Palmer's criminal history, which totaled 133 pages.
"When I got past the hundredth page, I thought, 'This is crazy,'" Richman said, noting that Palmer had received a string of 90-day sentences, the maximum sentence for theft under $100. "I said, 'We have to get this guy more than 90 days. That just doesn't faze him.'"
To build his conspiracy case, the prosecutor spoke with paramedics, police officers, emergency room nurses and wait staff. Everyone, it seemed, was familiar with the suspect and his act. "Cops came up to me in court and said, 'Oh yeah, we know him from around the neighborhood,'" Richman said.
"I heard stories about this guy," said Damon Fitt, who manages Maisy's restaurant on North Charles Street, and said he was taken by Palmer in May for a $31.74 bill that included beer and a vodka and cranberry juice cocktail.
Fitt said he caught on to the scheme midway through Palmer's meal, after he had ordered his third drink. "I demanded to see some payment," the manager said. "Obviously, he didn't have the money. … I told him, 'Everybody knows about you.'"
Palmer was typically arrested each time he faked a seizure. But each time, he posted minimal bail, and if he was convicted, was sentenced to no more than 90 days in jail. Court records show that at times, he was arrested nearly every other day.
Little could be learned of Palmer. His court-appointed attorney did not return phone calls. And despite his extensive record, court files contain few details of his personal life. His 90-year-old father appears to live in an assisted-living home, and court records show several different addresses for Palmer, including an apartment on Broadway in Upper Fells Point.
In 1985, he was twice convicted of arson, and in 1990 he was sentenced to five years in prison for robbery. In 1991, he was convicted of assault on a staff member of the Patuxent Institution, which treats people with psychological problems.
After that, his arrests consist mainly of theft and fraud charges, including 36 separate cases of theft under $100 or theft under $500 since 2005. Of those, he was convicted 22 times.
In 2001 and 2002, Palmer spent time in Florida and Virginia, where he was convicted of several counts of defrauding innkeepers and theft.
The recent Baltimore cases in which Palmer pleaded guilty read virtually the same. At Shucker's Restaurant on Thames Street in Fells Point, for example, he walked in on May 12 about 4:30 p.m. He ordered the shrimp and alcohol, then faked a seizure when the waiter handed him the $60.41 bill.
Baltimore Police Officer Bobbie White-Graves responded and wrote in charging documents that he found Palmer on the floor "rolling from side to side and spitting." He had no identification, no cash, no credit cards "or anything on him other than the clothes he was wearing," the officer wrote in the court papers.
Palmer was rushed to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where nurses told the officer that they had treated Palmer the previous day "for the same condition." He had faked a seizure and left an unpaid $40 tab at Ding How Restaurant, just a block from his apartment on Broadway.
Richman said the manager of the Chinese restaurant never called the police.
"They didn't want to stick him with the bill as he was on his way out the door in an ambulance," the prosecutor said.