Theology student learns that man charged with stealing his car is accused of bombing attempt

Car theft case in 2008 was one of Martinez's arrests before Wednesday

December 10, 2010|By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun

A theology student whose car was stolen in Bladensburg two years ago was stunned to learn that Antonio Benjamin Martinez, the 21-year-old man charged Wednesday with plotting to blow up a military recruiting office in Catonsville, appears to be the same person accused of taking his Subaru.

When told about the connection, Daniel Tobin replied, "Amazing."

Bladensburg police charged Martinez, then 19, with auto theft and two related counts on Feb. 16, 2008, in the theft of Tobin's vehicle.

It was the second time in two days that Tobin's four-door 2005 beige Subaru Legacy had been taken. But this time, he says, he witnessed the theft while he was taking out the trash.

Tobin, who is now 35, lived with his wife and young children in a Bladensburg apartment close to where Martinez lived at the time.

Tobin, a doctoral student in theology at Catholic University of America in Washington, said the person he saw behind the wheel of his car — whom he chased down with the help of three passers-by — was a stranger to him. He barely had any interaction with him, he said, even though they held him until police arrived.

"From that brief encounter with a person, you don't know what's beneath the surface," he said.

Tobin said that when the man who was driving his car spoke with a responding police officer, "he seemed concerned to communicate that it was a misunderstanding. There wasn't an excess of emotion."

Martinez was jailed in lieu of $20,000 bail after his arrest and held until his court appearance May 2, according to court records.

The car theft charges against Martinez were dropped because Tobin did not appear in court. He said he did not come to Prince George's County in May 2008 for the trial because he was not notified of the court date.

Because of crimes against his family — the car theft, a burglary and a bizarre extortion attempt — Tobin's family had moved.

Tobin said this week he had no particular feelings about Martinez, a recent convert to Islam, being accused by federal authorities of trying to pull off a bombing at the Armed Forces Career Center on Baltimore National Pike. FBI agents had engaged with Martinez after being tipped off to his rants on Facebook, and monitored him as he schemed to punish U.S. military forces for what he viewed as attacks on Muslims.

Of the bombing plot, Tobin said, "I'm very happy that it was prevented from occurring."

The burglary of the Tobins' apartment on Feb. 14, 2008, was the start of their troubles at the Bladensburg apartment complex. Tobin's wife told police that their car was stolen and their residence was broken into. Important things missing were cash from her purse, cell phone and car keys, Tobin said.

A day later, a juvenile returned a set of keys and the car, telling them he knew who took the car and keys. The juvenile told Tobin he wanted to do the right thing and give them to the owner.

Bladensburg police said they charged a 17-year-old boy who lived in the area with auto theft and burglary, though it could not immediately be learned what happened in that case.

On Feb. 16, Tobin was taking out the garbage when he saw someone taking his car.

"I see the car pulling away. I chase after it, and I run between two apartment buildings," he recalled.

He yelled at the driver to stop and chased after the Legacy as it left one apartment complex parking lot, then went into another, he said.

When he spotted his car in the second lot, Tobin said, "I grabbed the handles of the driver's door and the passenger door, the two doors [on the driver's side], and he jumped out."

"Then he ran away; he was on foot," Tobin recalled.

Tobin got into the driver's seat, chasing after him. "I was yelling, and other people saw and they joined the chase."

The first person who joined in turned out to be a military police officer walking a dog, and he was quickly joined by two more people, Tobin said.

Tobin said the man ran into an area near Route 295 where there are some trees, and quickly was cornered by the three people and Tobin, who pulled his car around in front of him.

Tobin said he got out of his car and said, "You may as well give up running."

One of the people who had joined the chase handed Tobin a cell phone, and he called police.

On the scene, in the 4200 block of 58th Ave., the man told police he thought he was being carjacked, Tobin said.

He also told the officer that his friend had given him the keys to the car, which he thought belonged to his friend, and that he had no idea it was stolen, Tobin said. When police asked him his friend's name, he said it was George, Tobin recalled.

"I do remember that I didn't think he was a very good liar," Tobin said.

According to charging documents, Martinez "confessed to using a set of keys that he obtained from an acquaintance named 'Antoine' to take the car more than one time, once driving to a nearby grocery store" and also "admitted limited knowledge of the burglary" of the Tobin's residence.

After the burglary, Tobin's wife's cell phone was used to make an extortion-type call to her father, Tobin said. The caller, pretending to be Tobin, said someone had threatened his wife and their children so he should come over immediately with cash. But, Tobin said, that made no sense — his father-in-law lived in Oregon, and the Tobins were fine.

Days later, the Tobins found a knife tucked under one of their children's car seats in the back seat of their Legacy. His wife then took their children and moved to Oregon for a while after the series of crimes, while he stayed for school.

andrea.siegel@baltsun.com

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