DENVER (CBS4) - Denver prosecutors have filed felony charges against a Thornton man who confessed to stealing bags from Denver International Airport baggage carousels, including one bag belonging to famed rock star Peter Frampton.
Police and court records obtained by CBS4 show that John Papelbon, 52, of Thornton, was charged this month with three counts of felony theft and two counts of burglary in connection with the DIA baggage thefts, although there are indications Papelbon may have been pilfering DIA bags for at least three years.
"I have no comment," Papelbon said when approached Nov. 19 at his Thornton home. "I'm sorry," he said before retreating inside his home.
Papelbon acknowledged being aware of the bag theft investigation. He was arrested Nov. 9 and released from jail on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond after Denver police executed a search warrant on his home. Investigators say they found multiple bags that had been stolen from DIA passengers.
Papelbon has since written a letter to a Denver magistrate in which he confesses to being a bag bandit.
"Due to two layoffs in a span of about a year I acted on a VERY stupid idea of stealing some luggage at Denver Airport over a several month period to sell the bags themselves," Papelbon wrote in the letter to the magistrate, which was postmarked Nov. 14. "There are also no words strong enough to describe how sorry and apologetic I am to the people I hurt by committing these crimes."
He told the magistrate that prior to this case he had never been arrested in his life.
DIA administrators and police noted several high-end luggage thefts this past summer and fall. One victim, Tom Philand, said his Tumi bag was snatched from a United Airlines baggage carousel after he returned to Denver from New York in July. He estimated the bag and its contents were worth about $5,000.
"It was a good sized score for somebody," said Philand.
He had been in New York on business and had attended the 2013 Major League Baseball All Star game. Inside his luggage were souvenir shirts and hats from the All Star game for his son along with gifts for his wife.
"Whoever was doing this was going after some of the nicer things I guess," said Philand. "Its terrifically frustrating."
He said when he reported it to police, they told him they had "a bit of an issue with high-end bags going missing. They concluded they might have an issue out there. It was happening on too consistent of a basis to be random."
At about the same time that Philand's bag was snatched, rock guitarist Peter Frampton's luggage was also stolen from DIA. Authorities placed the value of Frampton's belongings at between $2,000 and $5,000. They say that theft occurred July 22.
Frampton was scheduled to play a concert in Beaver Creek on July 23. CBS4 was not able to reach Frampton despite repeated phone calls and email messages sent to Frampton and his representatives. Police say Frampton's bag has not been recovered.
The cases remained unsolved until Oct. 27 when Konstantinos and Elizabeth Chamamtzis reported their bag missing from the Delta Airlines baggage carousel. The Greek citizens valued the bag and its contents at $11,930. DPD Detective David Stolley, assigned to DIA, reviewed video surveillance tapes and spotted a heavy set man using a Smarte Cart to remove the bag in question.
Stolley said he recognized the man from a 2010 investigation into stolen bags at DIA. In that case, Stolley investigated the case of a woman who had a bag stolen at DIA, then later found some of the items in her bag for sale on eBay. She said the seller was John Papelbon.
"There was insufficient information at the time to proceed with charges on that matter," wrote Stolley.
But this time around was different. Police executed a search warrant at Papelbon's home earlier this month and say they found passengers bags that had been reported stolen from DIA.
"I think it was random opportunity, basically," Stolley told CBS4. With respect to Papelbon, Stolley said, "I believe he was acting by himself."
He said Papelbon confessed to making about five trips to DIA to steal passengers bags. Stolley said the investigation is ongoing.
Stacey Stegman, communications director for DIA, said bag theft at DIA is rare.
"We think the number of actual stolen bags is minimal. It doesn't happen often," Stegman said.
She said for all of 2013 the airport has only recorded 13 bag thefts from the baggage carousel area. She noted that the actual number of thefts may be higher since most passengers who lose a bag will simply report it to their airline, hoping for reimbursement.
"We don't think we have a problem," said Stegman. "Very few go missing."
However, in an odd twist, as CBS4 was interviewing Stegman and Stolley in the DIA baggage area Nov. 20, another bag thief was at work. Thomas Prehn, a former professional cyclist who lives in Boulder, was returning to DIA from a business trip when his bag went missing from the United Airlines baggage claim area. It was later found in another baggage carousel area of DIA, but someone had looted the bag stealing numerous items worth about $2,700.
Prehn said the thief had removed all markings from the bag.
"They had clearly gone through everything," said Prehn after getting his bag back, minus a number of personal items.
Sgt. Rick Stager, who supervises the Denver Police Department's Investigations Unit, said Prehn's bag was swiped from the same area and at the same time as the CBS4 crew was conducting interviews.
"I just wanted to confirm that there was indeed a theft of a bag belonging to Thomas Prehn just a carousel or two away from where you were filming," said Stager. "The bag was rifled through then dumped in another location in the airport. We have video of the suspect stealing the bag off of the carousel and walking away with the bag. We do not know who the suspect is yet, but are actively investigating the entire matter."
Stager declined to release the video of the airport's video of the newest bag bandit.
- Written by Brian Maass for CBSDenver.com
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