Men charged in $150,000 textbook theft ring

Media Credit: Becky Crowder | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Three employees and a hot dog vendor were found guilty Thursday of a month-long scheme in which they stole more than $150,000 worth of books from the GW Bookstore.

University police arrested Hao Nguyen, a hot dog vendor who parks on H Street, and Kyle Culbreath, a temporary bookstore worker, Jan. 19, 2011 for attempting to steal 66 books worth about $13,000, according to court documents. The four conspirators were charged with 22 counts of first-degree theft and receiving stolen property.

The scheme lasted from December 2010 to January 2011, with bookstore employees handing off the stolen textbooks to Nguyen at least nine times.

University Police Chief Kevin Hay said the arrests were the result of a joint investigation between officers and bookstore employees. Bookstore manager Bob Blake launched the probe after stacks of books went missing from his shelves, according to the documents.

“Alert members of the bookstore staff brought their suspicions to our attention. We set up a surveillance of the loading dock in an attempt to catch them in the act, and we were successful in making those apprehensions,” Hay said.

Surveillance footage showed that Culbreath worked with two other bookstore employees, Darrell Coleman and Kiry McCullum, to steal thousands of books and deliver them to Nguyen, who then sold them online. The first incident caught on tape occurred in December 2010, a few weeks before Blake first caught onto the ploy through the surveillance footage.

On Jan. 13, 2011, Blake noticed Coleman and Culbreath leaving the bookstore with boxes and headed toward the loading dock. The suspicious behavior then led Blake to stake out the area the next week with employees from GW’s textbook supplier, Follett Higher Education Group. The group “stealthily monitored” the men as they wheeled a shopping cart full of boxes to the loading dock, where Nguyen had parked his vehicle, according to the court documents. Officers arrested Nguyen and Culbreath that night for stealing about $13,000 worth of books.

A review of surveillance data showed bookstore employees had used the same approach to steal hundreds of books. Each time, the employees took new books off shelves and piled them into boxes that were then dropped off at a trash compactor near the store’s loading dock. The conspirators then called or texted the hot dog vendor, Nguyen, to pick up books.

The store reported that 4,288 books, worth about $290,000, went missing from February 2010 to February 2011. The losses were vastly greater than a typical loss, according to the documents, though “some variance in inventory is common.”

Nguyen has sold hot dogs and snacks outside Gelman Library for more than 20 years. The vendor also buys and sells books from students at the end of each semester.

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