Crime Scenes: Internet sting leads to suspect in Canton burglaries

Man charged in string of break-ins in which thousands of dollars in computers, cameras and jewelry stolen

February 12, 2011|By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

Nicholas Driver spotted his stolen digital camera for sale on Craigslist.

Baltimore police Detective Derrick Layton pretended to be an interested buyer and set up a sting at a Canton Starbucks.

But it wasn't until he took the cuffed suspect to his apartment a few blocks away on Fait Avenue and closely examined the décor that the detective spotted subtle clues that led him to a case far bigger than a single Canon camera.

Inside, Layton wrote in court documents, he saw Driver's stolen X-Box hooked up to the television set. On a shelf, the officer said, he saw the victim's stolen bottles of gin and vodka, lined up in an "orderly fashion," as if they had been there for months.

The detective also saw a pile of jewelry, cell phones and computer equipment, and over the next few weeks, he painstakingly matched the items to four other burglaries in Canton between June and January in which thousands of dollars of items were reported stolen.

A license plate number etched on the back of a cell phone led him to the victim of one burglary. A number in another phone's directory labeled "Dad" led him to the father of another victim. A home phone number found on a portable computer drive led to a third.

Court documents reveal a series of burglaries that in some cases required several pages of police reports to list the missing items — laptop computers, video game consoles, expensive watches, guitars, iPods, smart phones, cameras and handbags.

And that's just the stuff you'd expect to be stolen in a burglary.

The list of missing loot includes steaks taken from a freezer along with a George Foreman grill. There's a stack of missing children's videos — unopened Blu-ray discs of "Wall-E," "A Bug's Life," "Cars" and "Monsters, Inc." — and videos for older folks, such as a boxed set of "Seinfeld" and the second season of "Big Love."

From one house, an engraved $1,300 Swiss Tag Heuer watch was stolen. From another house, a $2 box of Rice-A-Roni was taken from a cupboard.

Police identified the suspect as 32-year-old Gregory Edward Meseke. He was charged last week with five counts of burglary and more than a dozen other related crimes. He has two addresses in court records — the second-floor apartment in the 3100 block of Fait Ave. in Canton, within walking distance of the victims' homes, and a family-owned, single-family rancher in Jarrettsville, in the 1800 block of Twin Oaks Road.

A man who answered the phone at the Twin Oaks Road address declined to comment. Meseke was ordered held without bail until his next court hearing in March. He has a string of convictions in Harford County that include theft, trespassing and attempting to drive a car under the influence of alcohol.

In April 2007, he pleaded guilty to burglary in Harford County Circuit Court and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but three years suspended, for breaking into a house across from a Christmas tree farm in December 2006.

In that case, Meseke broke the glass on a porch door that opened to the master bedroom and stole nearly $4,000 worth of items, including a 32-inch flat-screen television, a $1,200 watch, a camera, a key to a BMW and a jar of loose change. A friend turned him in, suspicious that a man without a job could have so many expensive things.

Little could be learned about Meseke. There's no attorney entered into the court record for his recent Baltimore arrest, and the public defender who represented him in Harford County said he couldn't remember the case.

Two months after he went to prison, Meseke pleaded with the judge to reduce his sentence, saying in a handwritten letter that his 4-year-old daughter didn't understand why when she visited her father she could see him only through a glass window. He wrote that she was "crying because she could not hug her dad."

Meseke said in the letter that he "made the bad decision of hanging with the wrong person and using alcohol and cocaine on a daily basis. … I want to start over and take care of my family." The judge denied the request.

He walked out of state prison in October 2008, having served about 18 months of his sentence, which is typical. Sometime later, he moved to Highlandtown, just a few blocks north of Canton Square.

The burglary investigation in Baltimore got its first break shortly after Driver's rowhouse on South Ellwood Avenue was broken into during the late-night hours of Dec. 31 or in the first few hours of the new year.

Driver — who didn't return a message left with his mother — told police he had left about 8 p.m. and returned about 3 a.m. to find his living room window broken and raised up. Among the items he reported missing were $20 gift cards, assorted compact discs, an electric guitar and an iPod.

And, of course, the X-Box, bottles of booze and the Canon digital camera.

It was the camera that Driver spotted while cruising Craigslist five days after the break-in.

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