Whoa – Bike Thief Sentenced to 12 Years for Crimes in Arlington County

Thanks to a reader for sending. From the Arlington Sun Gazette:

“Cullen on Oct. 18 was sentenced to 12 years in state prison after pleading guilty to eight counts of grand larceny with the intent to sell, and one count of burglarious tools, following his arrest on charges of stealing bicycles in the county.”

62 Comment

  • “burglarious” – what a great word!

    • Agreed. I guess “burglarious tools” must be some kind of legal terminology, but it still made me smile.
      I also think “The Burglarious Tools” would be a good self-deprecating band name.

    • I imagine that “burglarious” is what the Hamburgler says to his surfer friends:
      “Like, that is TOTALLY BURGLARIOUS, dude!”

  • That’s absurd and a MASSIVE waste of taxpayer money. Then again, prisons and the court system are a BIG business in Virginia and their entire criminal justice system is needlessly & excessively punitive.

    • Compare the crime rates of the two jurisdictions. I’d say this is a pretty good use of taxpayer money.

      • The two jurisdictions being DC and Virginia. I’ll let you speculate how long would this guy spend in jail if he were caught in DC.

      • You really think 12 years is an appropriate amount of time for a homeless man to spend in jail for stealing some bikes? Virginia taxpayers are on the hook for $300K that it will cost to imprison this man for 12 years for probably $2500 worth of stolen property.
        Does that seem like a prudent use of taxpayer money?

        • How much damage would he do to society over the next 12 years? And how much are we already providing in services? Jail sounds about right to me.

          • “We’re” probably providing ZERO in the way of services. Unfortunately, for many, when it comes to services — including health care — they get more in jail than they could possibly get when they’re on the streets. It’s a pretty classic conundrum — how many people might avoid jail — if they had the services and resources that could provide them with better options.

          • I don’t know the numbers for Virginia, but generally in most jurisdictions, the amount it costs to incarcerate someone for a year is far greater than the amount of money that would be spent on social services or benefits (like food stamps, TANF, disability, or whatever) for that person. I have no problem with consequences for criminals, but too often the prison system is geared way too much toward punishment and not enough toward rehabilitation and reentry–especially for non-violent criminals. Yeah, it sucks to get your bike stolen (I’ve had mine stolen, so I know), and it shouldn’t be tolerated or laughed off, but let’s be real, it’s also not the worst crime in the world. I mean really, 12 years? As for prison being a “deterrent”…just look at the recidivism rates in so many correctional systems. It’s very likely that a criminal like this will have little access to meaningful programs (like counseling, GED, life skills, or technical skills training) in prison, and not too much support after release…and yet they’re expected to do…what? Convince an employer to hire them for a legit job, with a felony conviction and few job skills? Many people also don’t realize that a number of jurisdictions levy a crazy amount of fines/fees on parolees–things like fines related to the crime, fees to pay back court costs, fees for mandated drug testing or anger management classes, and fees for parole supervision. Again, I’m not arguing there should be no consequences, but it does create a powerful “push” back to crime when you release someone into a situation where they have few job prospects and heavy financial obligations (especially when not paying the fees is parole violation that can technically send the person back to jail).

          • What do you expect this person would do if he wasn’t sent to jail. Magically turn his life around?
            Face it – the guy is going to be a loser for a long time – either behind bars or not.

          • there are plenty of social services on offer in dc – the problem is dependency not lack of funding for food stamps and subsidized housing.

        • gotryit

          Where did you read that he was homeless? I didn’t see that in the article.

          • I think Anonymous 11:41 must have been gotten that from “of no fixed address.” I don’t think “of no fixed address” always equates to “living on the streets,” though.

        • 1. Those could be $2000 bikes. Could be $25,00) worth of stolen property or more

          2. If they are $200 bikes, then there is a good chance he is stealing them from working class people who rely on their bikes for basic transport.

          3. Whether he is homeless or not should not matter. Justice should not defer to income or social class in either direction

          4. In fact he will get 1/3 of his time off if makes restitution, and I assume he can also get time off for good behavior in prison. As for the cost, that needs to be balanced against the impact on biking in NoVa if people cannot park their bikes safely. And the larger loss in economic value if law breaking becomes more common.

          • Good points, especially #2.

            We also don’t know the circumstances of the theft. Were they lying in the front yard, locked on a post or in garages?

            Odds are he has priors too.

        • If he’s homeless, then he will now get a nice home in prison — everyone wins!

          • It cost far more to house someone in a prison than a homeless shelter, oh thee whose snark doth fail.

      • I agree, let’s cut off his hands.

    • excessively punitive? I think not. If the particular transgression is pervasive, then the punishment is not severe enough. Only when the vast majority are discouraged from engaging in the activity is the punishment sufficient.

      Viewed differently, if a criminal is only caught 1/100 times, what should the penalty be when he gets caught? I would say it should be something like (bike value) * 100 so that the expected value of the crime is 0. Unfortunately, you’d be hard pressed to get a bike thief to cough up $30,000. Prison time serves as a reasonable proxy for money. Yes, it unfortunately puts some burden on taxpayers, but the point is not so much to punish people as it is to discourage people from committing the crime in the first place.

      In DC, on the other hand, the punishments are laughable at best, and hence these sorts of crimes are rampant.

      • Virginia
        Average time served in 2009: 3.3 years
        Change in length of stay from 1990: 91 percent
        Cost to state of keeping prisoners longer: $518.8 million
        “The average prisoner released in Virginia in 1990 had served just 1.7 years — well below the then-national average of 2.1 years. By 2009, Virginia’s average time served had increased by 91 percent to 3.3 years, the second-highest percentage increase in the nation. Much of this increase was driven by a rise in the percentage of sentences served: From 1990 to 2000, the length of sentences served rose 71 percent for violent crimes and 116 percent for nonviolent crimes. This trend continued from 2000 to 2009, when the length of sentences served rose another 18 percent for violent crimes and 10 percent for nonviolent crimes. Such policies are extremely expensive. Simply keeping the same number of prisoners released in 2009 incarcerated for longer periods cost more than a half billion dollars.”
        Massive waste of money, especially the focus on increasing incarceration rates for NON-VIOLENT crime.
        Why do Americans have such a raging boner for throwing away people in prison for excessively long periods of time for non-violent crimes and then preventing them from reintegrating into society? What is it about our culture that glorifies bloodlust so much, even to the point of needlessly wasting precious resources to ensure this vengeance? It makes no economic or moral sense.

    • this is actually a deterrant, as opposed to the laughable punishments in dc

      • people don’t avoid committing crimes because of the penalty for that crime.
        so no, it’s not about being a “deterrent”

        • Exactly. It’s about exacting revenge and profiting off taxpayers. The entire justice system – especially in Virginia – is a drain on economic resources and is morally bankrupt. If it was about lowering crime, Virginia would have the best programs and financing available to ensure that these people leave prison with the ability to make a life for themselves and economically contribute outside the prison walls.

        • i have no doubt many people in dc commit crimes knowing full well there is no real punishment for them. the idea that an effective criminal justice system isn’t a deterrent is a hilarious liberal fantasy.

          • it’s not supported by facts.

          • “the idea that an effective criminal justice system isn’t a deterrent…”

            …is proven by every criminal who continues to commit crimes everywhere even though the prison population keeps skyrocketing. Yeah, that.

        • Theft is typically economically motivated, and I believe that thieves are rational economic agents (who are perhaps not as risk averse as you or I).

          Take, for example, parking. I am not sure about DC, but there are many areas where daily parking costs say $25 in a lot, but the cost of a parking ticket on the street is only on the order or $50. If you only get ticket on average once every week, should you pay for the lot, or just pay the tickets? Many people have a feeling that they are doing something “wrong” when they get ticketed, and hence try to avoid the offense. I know many people, however, who park on the street as a matter of course, accepting the tickets when they come as $50 < 5*$25. But these are not people who enjoy flouting the law—if you increased the price of a ticket or the frequency with which parking was enforced, they would switch to the "honest" behavior of parking in a lot. If you want to view the parking ticket as a deterrent, its value is just too low in these cases. (If the purpose of the ticket is to raise revenue for the city, on the other hand, the value may actually be correct.)

          I don't think it's too far of a stretch to assume that theft has similar motivations. The problem is that it's hard to enforce the purely economic penalty, as the penalty required would probably be more than the thief actually has. So prison makes a good alternative as a deterrent. Unfortunately, everyone probably places a different utility on freedom, and hence it's hard to establish exactly what the right length of stay is to deter the would-be criminal.

          Anonymous @ 11:54 seems to suggest that current data does not support my hypothesis, but there's no link to the full data so it's hard to say. But I will add that increasing the penalty should not deter nonviolent offenders UNTIL the penalty is severe enough to cancel the expected gains.

          Now as for crimes that are not motivated by money, e.g., many violent crimes, I would expect these to be less responsive to punishments.

        • I know of no evidence that penalties have not impact as deterrents.

          I DO know of studies suggesting the death penalty does no more to deter murder, than life imprisonment does but thats not at issue here.

  • 12 years seems like a pretty lengthy sentence but I really don’t have much sympathy for this dude. Bike thieves should go to jail. Bike theft is too often viewed is a “humorous crime.” Hard to explain. But no one is laughing now.

  • I have no problem with this sentence at all. Think of all the people he hurt. Getting robbed sucks.

    Now, what do the candidates for mayor say about sentencing?

  • Pretty excessive, if it were in DC he likely wouldn’t even spend a night in jail

    • And herein lies the rub – why can’t we get to a happy medium between DC’s lax sentencing guidelines and Virginia’s insanely punitive stance? Why can’t this guy go to jail for 6 months and perhaps be taught some life skills? There needs to be a punishment, but it shouldn’t be 12 years in the slammer at a cost of $25K per year. That’s just stupid.

  • Let him rot in jail. Chronic thieves like this will never stop. Of course the prison industry is another type of crime robbing tax payers in the name of feel good mass incarceration while we let the JP Morgan Chase people pay their way out of any and everything…

  • Plead guilty to second degree murder in DC – get 15 years. Steal bikes in Virginia – 12. And we wonder why we see all the gunplay in DC week after week?!

  • lovefifteen

    Does eight counts of grand larceny mean eight bicycles were stolen? If so, then twelve years in prison is excessively punitive. Prison is so awful, and this man will likely never recover from it. I’ve had my bike stolen twice in DC, and I certainly wouldn’t sentence the person that stole one of my bikes to a year in jail.

  • Anon 12:39 Really? And you know this…how? If you were an unemployed adult male with a HS diploma, no recent job history and no fixed address, where and how would you start? You need job training, housing, basic medical care and decent food. How exactly would you go about accessing these things? I’m assuming that most housing programs have extensive waiting lists, and that benefits that are available for child-centered households would likely not be available to a single adult male — but my assumptions are based on services available in other cities. I’d appreciate whatever specific info you might have.

    • the system creates dependent, unemployable adult males. that’s the problem.

      • which system?

        • The system to which s/he (and I!) were fortunate enough to not be born into.
          I thank god everyday that I was born into a solidly middle-class, union-working household. That gave me the foundational abilities to go to private elementary school, a good public magnet high school, and then enter into a good university and graduate school. Which then allowed me to have the cushy, well paid job that I have now. I count my blessings, because my life has been so much easier than 80% of the people in this country.
          I don’t know how other people do it, especially when The System is so stacked against them from the beginning.

      • All righty then…. could you say a bit more about the “system” that created and continues to support you? And what you think should be the fate of people who lack the resources that got you to the point of being able to have the wherewithal to chat on a blog during regular working hours?

        • Dopes like this guy think that they did it all by themselves and nothing or no one else contributed to their success. It’s this same navel-gazing, self-centered point of view that’s currently wrecking our economy and bringing down the middle class.
          Americans have this strange obsession with seeing everyone equally miserable, rather than having anyone aside from themselves receive a hand up. Divide et impera.

          • if the hand up was temporary and yielded productivity and independence that would be a different story. what i have a problem with is a system designed to encourage generational dependency on social services.

        • Funny — I read the phrase “generational dependency” and immediately thought of families like some of America’s political dynasties. And imagined what would have happened to some of their scions if their advantages were only “temporary” and were required to “yield productivity and independence.” Then I thought of how things like farm subsidies are seen by some as “okay” while things like food stamps and student loans are seen as milking the system. I guess it’s all about the context.

    • Not sure what I would do, but I find it instructive how many immigrants manage to come here illegally and without knowing the language, and yet manage to find gainful employment and means of sustaining themselves other than stealing bikes. Spare me your bleeding heart blithering.

      • I’ll consider sparing you my blithering when you manage to be specific about what exactly you would do if you yourself faced the challenges and lacked the resources of those you so easily denigrate. And, of course, if you really want to be “spared” it’s pretty easy .

        • I think he was very clear about what he’d do – work hard and get a leg up rather than rely on social services

        • what would you do if you were a poor immigrant, perhaps someone who relied on social services to supplement a minimum wage job, and someone stole your bike?

          Why are we making this about rich vs poor? did this dude steal a carbon fiber bike? The victims were likely not affluent, and may have been poor.

          • We have no information about what he stole, but stolen carbon fiber bikes are very likely to be reported, whereas a bike owned by an illegal immigrant is not. And any bike thief who knows what he’s doing wants to steal a bike he can sell. So if I had to place a wager on what these 12 bikes were, I would bet that it was not a bunch of serviceable but not nice bikes that were included in the count.
            But I agree that this conversation took a really strange turn.

          • Sorry, you do not specify that the immigrant was undocumented and I added that in my reply, but I think the general point about likelihood of reporting still holds.

  • what do you suppose someone who stole 12 cars would get?

    This isnt someone who did this on impulse. It was a business. And it was not someone who lacked initiateve either.

      • By “stole 12 cars” (I should have said 8) i meant actually stealing the cars, NOT stealing items FROM the cars.

        Stealing a bike, for some victims, means the complete loss of their principle means of transportation. It is equivalent to auto theft, not theft FROM an auto.

        I am not certain that the term of 12 years is the best. But I do think that people take auto theft more seriously than bike theft. That you apparently thought i was referring to theft FROM an auto, only reinforces my point.

        • In think it’s the relative value of the item. While there are certainly bikes that cost more than some cars, they are rarely left chained up in a place where they could be stolen.

          • Also consider the fact that insurance companies – aka BIG BUSINESS – get involved in auto theft cases and you can understand why the cops take it relatively more seriously. In addition, much of the stolen auto trade is linked tightly with transnational organized crime syndicates. Bikes? Not so much.
            In any event, even when you do report auto theft the cops tell you quite matter-of-fact that there’s little chance you’ll see your car again in a salvageable state (if it’s even found).

          • so its about the dollar value? I understand that thats an issue in law, but the Va prosecutor was within the law in Va. The argument here seems to be about justice.

            And I think stealing an affluent persons second or third car may be less harm to the victim, than stealing a less aflluent person’s bike.

            And yes, even pricey bikes SOMETIMES need to be locked outside. Because people have to actually, you know, get places.

          • Yeah, crime classification is about dollar value, not value to the individual who had a vehicle (bike or car) stolen. Because we don’t have good ways of gauging the “emotional” value of those items and we don’t have a metric that adjusts the cost of the loss to the income or means of the victim. A $200 bike is a $200 bike, whether it was stolen from someone who has no ability to replace it or from a bazillionaire who won’t notice. That may not be the most just way to decide these things, I totally get your point, but it’s just not how the law works and in truth, it’s not how most people view the severity of various crimes. Until you go into the specifics of each and every case to explain how losing a bike means Skippy can’t get to work now but losing a car does not impact Buffy’s life in any away, anyone would say that stealing a car is worse than stealing a bike, in general, because the average car is worth 100+ times more than the average bike.

          • Yes, it’s ALWAYS about dollars and cents.
            Try calling the cops in Chevy Chase and Anacostia. See which come quicker and act respectfully/professionally. Money talks.

  • yea, check this guy out…

    Between June 1 and Aug. 5, a total of 126 bicycles were reported stolen — a combined loss of $98,127, according to a graphic police are distributing.

  • http://arlington-va.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/arlington-bike-thief-sentenced-to-12-years
    The arrests in Arlington, according to a news release, include:

    Aldrick Johnson, who pleaded guilty to two charges and was sentenced to four years, three suspended. Police say he was observed on video trying to break into an apartment building.

    Ositafimma Emegbuism, Johnson’s co-defendant, pleaded guilty to unlawful entry and received six months.

    John Sears was apprehended after a resident observed him tampering with a bicycle inside of a parking garage, according to police. Investigators found Sears with a stolen bicycle in his possession not far from the incident. Warrants for numerous charges have been obtained, police say.

    Irvin Coleman was identified as a suspect in multiple bike thefts in Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria after pawning multiple bikes on separate occasions. Police charged him in connection with a bike theft incident at Ballston Common Mall. He eluded authorities for some time but has now been arrested. Coleman is being held in Fairfax on no bond. His first court appearance for his Arlington charges is Thursday.

    Howard Montgomery was stopped after an officer observed him riding one bike while rolling a second beside him, according to police. He admitted that the bikes did not belong to him, investigators say. Indictments are pending.

    Five juveniles involved with bike thefts from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria have been identified and prosecuted. Four have been sentenced so far, according to police.

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