Crime Scenes: FBI Broadens Home Invasion Probe

… Court documents suggest suspects had insider help from MVA …

By Peter Hermann, The Baltimore Sun

7:17 PM EST, March 9, 2011

They invaded a vending machine business in Canton. Next, they went after a pharmacy owner in Pikesville. Then a restaurateur in Cockeysville. The FBI arrested the robbers outside a cafe in Atlantic City as they prepared for another job.

But even as four suspects are headed to federal prison after guilty pleas or convictions, authorities appear far from done with their investigation. Federal agents think they know who the group was going to hit next, and how they managed to get precise information on their targets — the Motor Vehicle Administration.

Documents filed this week in U.S. District Court in Baltimore show that the FBI believes the robbers had a tipster at the agency who helped run license plate numbers to obtain home addresses.

This revelation is contained in an application for a search warrant filed by the FBI in January and made public Tuesday, the day the first of the four convicted robbers was sentenced to serve 10 years in federal prison for his role in the violent home invasions in the summer and fall of 2009. More than $300,000 was stolen and one business owner was killed.

The new thread in what had appeared to be a closed case came, according to the affidavit, from a torn note card found in the wallet of the group’s convicted mastermind, 53-year-old Nikolaos Mamalis of Edgewood, when he was arrested outside a cafe near Atlantic City’s boardwalk in November 2009.

FBI Special Agent J. Matthew Kazlaudas wrote in the court document made public this week that the card listed a license plate number, a name and an address in Gambrills. The information matched a listing contained in state MVA records, not available to the public.

The agent wrote that investigators believe the address was the location of a future robbery — a private home of a man who at one time was listed as the vice president of a seafood wholesaler based in Jessup.

The document seeks permission from a federal judge to search two laptop computers and a thumb-drive that authorities seized 18 months ago. It’s unclear whether authorities already searched those devices once before and are applying for a new warrant because they’re now looking for different information.

It appears from the court documents that the FBI wants to determine whether there are any names or details in the computer devices that would prove a tip from a confidential informant — that someone at the MVA had been helping the robbers.

“Specifically, investigators learned that during the course of the conspiracy Mamalis would use contacts at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to provide him with home addresses of targeted locations, which members of the conspiracy planned to surveil and possibly rob,” according to the warrant application.

“Mamalis would then enter these addresses into his Magellan GPS in order to find their exact locations to make tracking easier,” the court document states. The FBI agent alleged in the application that investigators overheard Mamalis tell his son-in-law to ask police to return his seized laptop, thumb-drive and GPS.

It could not be determined Wednesday whether the search of the devices has been done. Documents made public this week do not include what is called a “return” — a list of what authorities found or seized during their search.

Vickie LeDuc, a spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney’s office, declined to comment on the case. Buel C. Young, a spokesman for the Motor Vehicle Administration, did not return several messages. Mamalis’ defense attorney also did not return calls.

A federal jury convicted Mamalis last month of conspiracy, robbery and gun charges. He faces 57 years to life in prison when he is sentenced in May. Three others pleaded guilty in the case; one was sentenced Tuesday, and the others are scheduled to be sentenced later this month and in April.

Police have described the three robberies as being as well-planned as they were violent. The suspects knew each of the victims from prior business dealings; one apparently lent money to some in the group who tried to open a pizza shop that lost money and failed.

The first robbery, in July 2009, was the most violent. Gunmen raided Precision Vending on South Lakewood Avenue in Canton. They took $10,000 in cash stuffed into bags and left the 54-year-old owner, Constantine “Dino” Frank, zip-tied and duct-taped to a chair.

After leaving the business, one of the robbers called the victim’s partner and told him, “Your boss is in his office and is not doing too good.” Police found Frank, but he had suffered a stroke during the ordeal and died at a hospital two weeks later. The medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide as a result of stress from the attack.

In September, the robbers went to the Pikesville house of a man who owned Citizen’s Pharmacy Services in Bel Air. One of the suspects pretended to be a police investigator and made references to the victim’s father-in-law. One took a gun from a briefcase and ordered the owner and his wife to the floor. Cash and jewelry were stolen.

Later that same month, the group robbed the Cockeysville home of the owner of the Sparrow’s Point Inn in Baltimore County. They also bound the occupants and at gunpoint ordered the victim to open his safe. Prosecutors said when the victim hesitated, the gunman threatened to cut off his fingers. They stole $140,000 from the safe and an additional $10,000 found in a kitchen drawer.

Two days before authorities moved in for arrests in August, prosecutors said in a statement that two of the men were caught on a secretly recorded telephone conversation plotting to travel to Greece to kill another member of the group to end a dispute over how to split the proceeds of one of robberies.

Police searched two cars linked to the suspects when they were arrested next to Atlantic City’s Trump Plaza in November 2009. Inside a Kia, authorities said, they found a briefcase containing rubber gloves, rope, tape, three sets of handcuffs, three empty money bags, mace, a knife and a loaded .38-caliber handgun.

Inside a Mercedes, police said, they found a black police baton, a leather jacket with a thumb data drive in a pocket and a GPS device. A search of data on the global positioning device revealed “addresses that were confirmed by a reliable confidential source to be target locations for future robberies,” according to the court document filed this week.

The affidavit says the address included the home of the seafood company owner who lives in Gambrills.

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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