Theft ring targets Naval Academy team

Authorities search house as part of investigation

November 10, 2010|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

The midshipman put his mark on his Rawlings Primo right-handed baseball glove, embroidering his name onto the thumb. A U.S. Naval Academy classmate wrote the number "5" and a reference to religious scripture — Philippians 4:13 — on the pinky of his Rawlings Pro Preferred.

The person who authorities believe stole the gloves and hawked them on eBay didn't try to obscure the tell-tale markings, and that made it easy for undercover agents with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service to hop on the Internet auction site and buy back the gloves.

Last month, federal investigators searched a Calvert County house as part of an investigation into a series of thefts in September from a locker room used by the academy's baseball team and from the head coach's office.

Court documents unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore show that agents who searched the house on Ashwood Drive in Dunkirk seized boxes of Nike Air Jordan shoes and cleats, black-framed Oakley sunglasses, three dozen baseball gloves, 11 baseball bats, cameras and computer equipment.

Authorities are now going through the more than 100 items — which include not only a Louisville Slugger but also a container of liquid pine tar — to determine whether they can be matched to the equipment stolen from the Naval Academy's Bishop Baseball Stadium or elsewhere.

Deborah Goode, the academy's media director, issued a statement confirming the thefts. "As this is an active investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further," she said. Court records do not show any arrests in the case.

Police officers from the Naval District in Washington responded to the theft complaint Sept. 16. Court documents say no forced entry was used to get inside the rooms. Police later learned that some of the stolen items were being auctioned on eBay, and investigators tracked the screen name "qualityathleticgear" to an e-mail account and a phone number. That led police to the house in Dunkirk.

Agents with NCIS set up undercover accounts on eBay, according to the court documents, and bid on several of the stolen items, including the two baseball gloves with the midshipmen's personal markings, which were visible in the pictures posted on the auction site.

The agents bids were successful, and the items were sent to them through a parcel shipping store in Dunkirk, the court documents say. The owners of the store identified a man living at the Dunkirk house as the person who shipped the gloves. Court documents say the man shipped 49 packages to customers over three months starting in July.

After the undercover agents bought and received the gloves, they obtained a search warrant and went to the house in Dunkirk.

The owners of the house did not return phone calls seeking comment. A man who identified himself as a family friend answered the phone there and said he would pass along a message. The occupants are named in court records, but The Baltimore Sun is not identifying them because no criminal charges have been filed.

Court documents identify the owner's son, an 18-year-old, as the prime suspect behind the eBay sales, but the paperwork does not say whether he is also a suspect in the thefts from the Naval Academy or whether he knew that those items had been stolen.

State court documents show that the teen's father is being sued for $15,828 by the Navy Federal Credit Union and that their house was in foreclosure proceedings several years ago.

peter.hermann@baltsun.com

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