Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Police search for suspect in election laptop thefts

By KATE HOWARD • Staff Writer(Tennessean) • January 16, 2008 When Metro officers arrested a homeless man for trespassing in early January and cited him again a few days later on a drug paraphernalia charge, they didn’t know they were talking to the man they now believe jeopardized the security of 337,000 Metro voters. But DNA evidence found at the Davidson County Election Commission led police to Robert Osbourne, 45, a parolee with a history of property theft, that they had cited and released just 10 days ago. Tuesday, police issued a warrant for Osbourne’s arrest and said they are still looking for him. The theft of two laptops full of registered voters’ social security numbers could cost the city and the taxpayers $800,000 to cover credit monitoring for the affected residents. But police said they expect Osbourne was looking for a quick buck, not intending to steal any identities. “From the very beginning, (we) believed this was a random act,” Metro Police Chief Ronal Serpas said Wednesday. “It was a quick getaway, a quick hit. We are very hopeful the computers will be found.” The break-in over the Christmas holidays enraged many voters who feared the thieves could use personal information on the laptops to steal their identities. The laptops have not been recovered. The DNA match wasn’t confirmed until this week, when a blood sample found near the crime scene matched Osbourne, whose DNA sample was stored in a database because of his prior conviction. A window was smashed during the break-in and police suspected the person that broke the glass must have gotten cut. Cliff Tredway, spokesman for the rescue mission, said workers there don’t know Osbourne and are not familiar with him. Tredway said he can’t talk specifically about who stays there because of confidentiality concerns, but the shelter does look at identification during nightly check-in and keeps the information in case the authorities are looking for somebody. Metro officials think the break-in occurred on Christmas Eve. However, a security guard who later was fired, wrote in a Dec. 23 report that he noticed a roll-up window in what he identified as the "Codes Department" was cracked open and Christmas decorations were strewn on the floor. He said it was "unusual," but wrote that he glanced in the window as he was passing and that "everything seemed in place." The guard later admitted to listening to Christmas music and ordering food instead of making his rounds. But he said he did not believe the break-in took place on his shift. There were concerns that one of the laptops had a password taped to it, but Election Administrator Ray Barrett said this week that the password had been changed before the computer was stolen. Serpas said this is one of three serious crimes the department has investigated in the last month that involved a parolee. Police say he was sentenced to nine years in 2004 for a theft of property conviction in Marshall County. He also had burglary and cocaine convictions in Marshall County in the 1980s and 1990s, records show. Osbourne was released on parole and registered with the Metropolitan Police Department as an ex-convict on Oct. 30, 2007. Anyone with information on Osbourne is asked to call Metro police at 862-8600 or Crime Stoppers at 742-7463 (74-CRIME).

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