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Friday, September 15, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Addicts enlisted to steal pricey goods, police say

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle police say the bust of a local pawnshop owner, his daughter and her husband for allegedly fencing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of items stolen by drug addicts is a modern-day twist on an old classic.

"It's a tale right out of Charles Dickens, but instead of Oliver Twist, they hired adult drug addicts to do the thefts," said state Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose office is prosecuting the crimes. "And we've got the Fagin here as well as the thieves."

Police and prosecutors said Martin D. Levy, the longtime owner of Liberty Loan pawnshop on Pike Street; his daughter, Leslie Calvo; and her husband, Richard Calvo, directed addicts and transients to steal particular items from high-end downtown shops and department stores. Items included 52 Armani suits from Nordstrom, hundreds of pieces of blown-glass art, Virgin cellphones, Calloway golf clubs, Coach purses and a $500 banana-wood soap dish.

The items either were sought by the defendants for their personal use or were fenced through the pawnshop or an eBay account under the name of Arvaltas, court documents said. Police wanted to publicize the eBay account in hopes of tracking down stolen merchandise.

For example, police and prosecutors say Leslie Calvo collected original glass art and frequently placed "orders" with thieves for particular items, such as a $4,500 crystal vase from a Nordstrom display rack or a blown-glass lamp from Fremont's Edge of Glass, where the total losses were estimated to be near $15,000.

"These were very audacious and bold crimes," said Edge of Glass owner and artist James Curtis. "From what I understand, these were local masterminds who were using homeless people to perform these thefts.

"We were told that there were two or three high-end galleries in Seattle that appeared to have been targeted, and on the one hand, we were flattered," Curtis said. "On the other hand, we suffered an extreme loss."

In Dickens' classic novel "Oliver Twist," Fagin takes in homeless children and trains them to pick pockets and steal for him. He is also a buyer of other people's stolen goods.

Prosecutors filed 31 charges of trafficking in stolen property, possession of stolen property, solicitation of theft, leading organized crime, and money laundering against Levy, 69, of Mercer Island, and Leslie Calvo, 38, and Richard Calvo, 37, of Burien, in King County Superior Court on Thursday.

In court documents, one thief who had been confronted by police told officers he had once been asked to steal two overcoats from Nordstrom for Levy and Richard Calvo.

After he sold the overcoats to Leslie Calvo for a fraction of their retail cost, she sent the thief "back to Nordstrom's [sic] to get matching scarves and gloves," court documents allege.

Levy lives in a home on a half-acre lot on Mercer Island, court documents say. His son-in-law is a dentist in Burien.

Lead detective Dan Stokke said he believes the criminal activity at the pawnshop has likely been going on for at least 13 years, but the investigation began more than two years ago with a tip from a confidential informant.

Store-security surveillance tapes recorded at several downtown shops yielded other informants who told police they had stolen items at the behest of Levy and the Calvos, according to investigators.

Police said they have seized evidence worth more than $500,000. So much evidence has been collected in the case, they said, that they had to arrange for a special storage unit to hold the pallets of stolen goods.

"It's kind of like Costco on steroids," said Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske.

Only the Pang Warehouse fire in 1995 and the Wah Mee Massacre in 1983 produced more evidence, he said.

If convicted as charged, Levy and his daughter could face up to life in prison and Richard Calvo could face up to 20 years. The state is prosecuting the case because a relative of the defendants works in the King County prosecutor's office.

None of the three is in custody, police said, but warrants have been issued and defense attorneys have assured authorities that the three will surrender to police before their arraignments, scheduled for Monday morning.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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