Lexington officer uses eBay
|Lexington Police Sgt. Mark Riley discovered the stolen projectors on Ebay.
Photo by Queenie Wong.
Last July, when eight overhead projectors vanished from Washington and Lee University's Williams School of Commerce, Economics and Politics, Lexington Police Sgt. Mark Riley looked for the goods on eBay.
He found them – a remarkable bit of luck considering that the leader of what police are now calling a multi-campus burglary ring was considered a lock-breaking genius. Riley's luck also cracked a much larger case.
"I'd like to sit here and say it was investigative genius on my part, but I basically just sat in here and just got to looking and found it on eBay, and that's how it all started," he said.
Piece by piece, the case quickly came together. Within a month of the burglary, Lexington police were able to identify a suspect, 23-year-old former College of William and Mary student Curtis Perry White. Police soon identified three more people they say were part of a ring led by White.
White, under the alias Adam Godfrey, boldly posted an ad on eBay for a Christie LX 33 overhead projector days after the burglary, police say. It was being offered for $1,400, a good deal for a projector originally valued at more than $5,400.
The fact that the projectors didn't come with remotes was a dead giveaway that they might be stolen, Riley said. The W&L burglars hadn't bothered to take the remotes.
Using the information from the online ad, Lexington police tracked the seller to Baltimore, Md. Police traced a cashed check through a bank back to White.
What was taken:
To avoid a paper trail, White had paid a friend to cash the check for him, police say.
Riley described White as intelligent and street-smart.
"I feel like from what I know, he's not someone to just go in and break into something spontaneously," Riley said. "Things seemed to be well planned, pre-planned, and he kind of picks his prey."
It was Riley's quick thinking that eventually led him to another case, one that had baffled George Mason University police for more than a year. A similar theft, where three burglars made away with nearly $100,000 worth of equipment, had been caught on tape at GMU in February 2006.
After the Lexington burglary, Riley learned about the tape from Steve Tomlinson, associate director of public safety at W&L, who told him it had been featured on the Fox network TV show "America's Most Wanted."
Sgt. Thomas W. Bacigalupi, the lead detective at George Mason University, said that when he and Riley started comparing notes they realized that they were after the same person.
That led to the arrest of White on Sept. 5 in a West Philadelphia apartment. A few days later, police arrested two more suspects, Jason Cutler, 24, and Crystal Davis, 22. A fourth suspect, John McLean, 21, was also identified.
Bacigalupi, who identified the suspects, said it was no secret that they had lived together and were a close group of friends at William and Mary in Williamsburg. According to police documents, White is also being investigated by the William and Mary Police Department. He is suspected of hacking into the university's computer system and possibly altering his grades.
Moreover, investigators believe that W&L and George Mason were not the only universities and colleges targeted. Bacigalupi said that they've been able to verify at least four colleges and universities in Virginia and North Carolina that were victims of White and his group of friends.
The detective would not elaborate on how the suspects were able to bypass security and break into universities with no forced entry, but he did have one thing to say.
"I'll just leave it at: Mr. White is quite the locksmith. Let's put it that way."
White, who apparently was aware that he was on "America's Most Wanted," probably altered his appearance multiple times to evade police, Bacigalupi said. So it was no surprise that when police arrested White in Philadelphia, he had already obtained a lawyer, Peter D. Greenspun.
Greenspun, who graduated from George Mason's law school, defended John Muhammed, the Beltway sniper, in 2004. Greenspun did not return calls.
White voluntarily returned to Virginia and turned himself in to George Mason police Sept. 14. He is being held at Fairfax County jail without bail. At his arraignment Monday, he was charged with one felony, larceny with the intent to sell.
Lexington police have also charged White with four felonies – burglary, grand larceny, possession of burglary tools and larceny with intent to sell – along with one misdemeanor, destruction of property.
White has a preliminary hearing scheduled for Nov. 26 in Fairfax County. Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Ian M. Rodway is prosecuting the case.
But to Sgt. Riley, the Lexington police have already won with White's arrest.
"I think he's come to the end of his road now because it looks like there's going to be other cases other than Washington and Lee and George Mason," said Riley. "I'm pretty sure of it."
Produced by Washington and Lee journalism students.
Lead supervisor: Prof. Brian Richardson
Technical supervisor: Michael Todd