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Man arrested in after-hours heist

Authorities say he hid out, then stole laptops from a county building.

By CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published April 27, 2007


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NEW PORT RICHEY - He hid in a stairwell until the cleaning crew left. Then he searched for unlocked doors at the West Pasco Government Center.

He struck gold on the second and third floors, where the county's highest-ranking officials conduct business. He stole five laptops, two projectors and a digital camera.

He strapped them to his body. He made sure the front door was locked. After midnight, he walked 5 miles to his Port Richey home.

That, Frank Christen later told Pasco sheriff's detectives, is how he pulled off the April 13 heist at the county government complex. He was arrested at his home Wednesday and charged with burglary of a business.

The stolen laptops belonged to County Administrator John Gallagher, budget director Mike Nurrenbrock, development director Cindy Jolly, County Attorney Robert Sumner and Assistant County Attorney Barbara Wilhite.

"Mine was in a bag on the third floor behind my desk," Wilhite said Thursday.

Officials said nothing confidential was on the stolen laptops. One didn't work. At least four of them were headed for the surplus bin. The pricier ones weren't taken.

County officials said the night of the burglary, all doors were locked in the building, but that the cleaning crew has keys.

Christen, 28, had worked for a company that the county hired to clean carpets in the government center, said Kevin Doll, sheriff's office spokesman. He had recently been fired, Doll said.

Whether Christen worked for the cleaning company - Owens, Renz and Lee Co. Inc. of Winter Park - at the time of the burglary was unknown Thursday. The company did not answer calls for comment.

Since the heist, locks on the doors at the government center have been changed. Someone lets in the cleaners, who weren't given a new set of keys.

A detective heard about Christen's role in the burglary while investigating another burglary, Doll said. The detective set up a recorded phone call with Christen, who made "incriminating statements," Doll said.

The stolen items were worth $22,870. Of the merchandise, one laptop and a projector were found at Christen's house, Doll said.

"He told detectives he will try to get the (remaining) equipment back from someone he sold it to," Doll said.

Christen, of 9330 Grace Ave. Apt. 1, Port Richey, was released Thursday after posting $5,000 bail.

Before the burglary charge, Christen had only two traffic violations, records show.

Christen's motive in the burglary was simple: He told deputies he needed some money to pay the rent.

[Last modified April 26, 2007, 23:56:19]


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