Ethan Vaughan, Asst. News Editor
The George Mason University Police Department broke up a theft ring at the university bookstore earlier this semester, busting an operation where textbooks were stolen from the school and allegedly sold for crack cocaine.
On Jan. 28, Mason police arrested Sandra Reid, 43, and Brian Boyd, 33, both non-students who had taken merchandise from the bookstore on two separate occasions.
Both are to be tried in the Fairfax County court system, with Reid facing charges of grand larceny, concealment of merchandise and possession of cocaine, and Boyd standing for conspiracy to commit grand larceny.
A third suspect has yet to be identified, but the police department says they are actively pursuing information.
The drama began on Jan. 15, when bookstore employees observed several individuals behaving “strangely.”
“It was the way they acted,” said John Howard, assistant general manager at the bookstore. “They lurked.”
General Manager Barbara Headley stopped and confronted an unidentified suspect at the door who appeared to be putting books into his backpack.
After a brief conversation, he dropped his bag and ran, whereupon Howard began chasing him while Headley contacted the police.
Officers responded to the scene but the suspects had successfully fled campus, so the department’s investigations section took up the case.
“We had photos and videos and we determined that it wasn’t just kids taking textbooks,” said Detective Supervisor David Ganley. “It was organized and it wasn’t their first time.”
Ganley was struck by the precision with which the suspects carried out their operation, which he said was a dead giveaway that the department was dealing with professional theft.
“It was almost choreographed,” Ganley said. “The first suspect, Boyd, came in. They didn’t walk in together. He stacked some books on a cap and then the second suspect, Reid, came in. Boyd pointed to where the books were, and Reid put them in her bag. Boyd left before Reid did, then he came back and distracted the attendant while Reid slipped out the door.”
The third suspect, who also attempted to leave with stolen books, was the one confronted by Headley.
Four days later, the thieves returned and repeated their act but were followed by Headley, unbeknownst to them. Headley observed them and was able to supply police with accurate descriptions of the perpetrators.
“That gave us two incidents, so we got their M.O.,” Ganley stated. “We were able to confirm that it was the same individuals, and we put out a description to patrol officers of what they looked like and how they were coming and leaving.”
Based on the evidence at hand, the investigations section formulated a scenario of the crime, which it shared with Mason patrols during briefs known as “roll calls,” which take place at the beginning of every police shift.
“After a briefing, Officer [Matthew] Brudvig, a Master Police Officer, came across the scenario unfolding, with a vehicle in the right spot and a matching description of the suspects,” Ganley said.
Officers responded to the bookstore and the site of the vehicle, leading to the arrest of both Boyd and Reid and the recovery of more than $2,300 worth of textbooks.
“It looks like they were doing it for drugs, selling textbooks and using the money for crack,” Ganley assessed. He noted that a crack pipe with trace amounts of cocaine was found in the suspects’ car.
Ganley hypothesized that the economic recession and high price of textbooks could be behind some theft.
“I’m sure it does have an effect,” he said. “Whenever there’s any type of recession, there’s an increase in theft, and when books are so hugely expensive, with a few hundred dollars for a textbook, the temptation is going to be there. Many students go without their textbooks.”
Ganley said that many books are taken from students directly out of unattended backpacks, but clarified that the scale of the recently discovered ring was unique.
“This was organized theft, and you don’t see that so much here,” Ganley said. “Mason is a pretty safe place. The way the book store is set up isn’t convenient for that kind of thing; there’s no parking lot right outside, no easy way to get out. They caught them.”
Ganley called the incident “a good case of everyone working together,” commending the bookstore for promptly alerting the police department and Officer Brudvig for “recognizing the scenario and contacting others instead of going right in.” “It went like we hoped it would,” Ganley said.