A career criminal who stole a truck containing President Barack Obama's teleprompter and other audio equipment was sentenced Thursday to seven years in federal prison.
Sentencing guidelines called for a term of about three years, but Eric Brown of Richmond, Va., agreed to the longer sentence to avoid prosecution for 14 similar truck thefts in three localities. However, he could still face charges in Stafford County, which did not join Chesterfield, Hanover and Henrico counties in the agreement.
Brown pleaded guilty in January to theft of government property.
"The theft of government property is a serious offense," Assistant U.S. Attorney Roderick Young said in court. "It's all the more serious when the property belongs to the White House Communications Agency."
Young acknowledged that seven years seemed like a long sentence.
"No it's not," U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney interjected.
Later, the judge said: "If I had to sum up Mr. Brown's character, it would be that he's a thief."
Young outlined Brown's "nightmarishly long" criminal record — three dozen convictions for crimes including burglary, drug possession, identity fraud and grand theft auto stretching back more than three decades. Most recently, Brown operated "a pretty serious one-man car theft ring," Gibney said.
In response to a question from Gibney, Brown said he targeted Ford F-350s and Ford F-450s because they were easy to steal. One of those trucks happened to be a 2005 Ford owned by the Defense Information Systems Agency and assigned to the White House, which was stolen from a Henrico County hotel parking lot on Oct. 16, 2011, a few days ahead of Obama's visit to a suburban Richmond fire station to promote his jobs plan.
The truck had no White House markings on the exterior, but inside it was loaded with speakers, microphones, a teleprompter, a laptop computer, podiums and other items used in presidential appearances. The van was empty when it was recovered on the other side of town the next day, and some of the items were later recovered at Maryland pawn shops.
An FBI agent said in court papers that an informant told investigators that Brown had sold a Department of Defense laptop to another person, and that he saw in Brown's possession several storage tubs containing audio equipment — some of it bearing the presidential seal. When the source confronted Brown about the theft, Brown said: "Man, I got that truck. I don't do no playing."
Brown apologized in court before Gibney imposed the sentence.
Defense attorney David Lett said the sentencing agreement "gives Mr. Brown the opportunity to start anew if he wants to do so."