Prison for wife in theft of purses

A gang, led by her husband, stole from cars as mothers brought kids to school or day care.

By JOSE CARDENAS, Times Staff Writer
Published August 31, 2007

CLEARWATER - Jennifer McGirt pleaded guilty to aiding her husband in his plan to steal purses from affluent women dropping off kids at day care centers.

She apologized tearfully in court Wednesday before being sentenced on a racketeering charge and 34 felonies ranging from grand theft to forgery.

"I'm not proud of the things that happened," said McGirt, 27, of St. Petersburg. "I miss my family and my kid."

Circuit Court Judge Richard Luce sentenced her to five years in prison and 10 years of probation.

"You can very definitely be a positive influence in the life of your child," Luce said.

McGirt faced up to 30 years in prison, said Assistant State Attorney Richard Ripplinger. But she agreed to testify against her husband, Andre McGirt, during his trial earlier this month.

Andre McGirt, 45, was found guilty. Ripplinger said he will ask a judge to sentence him to life in prison in October.

Ripplinger described Andre McGirt as a career criminal, who was been convicted of violent crimes. He was the ringleader of a group of thieves that included his wife and others awaiting sentencing, the prosecutor said.

They used the money they stole to buy basic amenities, such as gas, shoes and toys.

"Their job was stealing," said Ripplinger.

The thefts happened in 2004 between June 1 and Sept. 16 in affluent neighborhoods such as Belleair and Westshore.

According to authorities, Andre McGirt took the purses while his wife forged checks at banks.

Toni Walsh was one of their victims, Ripplinger said.

She was making a stop at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg on Aug. 17, when Andre McGirt snagged her purse from her Jaguar.

A few days later, Christina McDowell was dropping off her child at St. Jude Cathedral in her Yukon sports utility vehicle.

"He smashed the window, stole the purse, and then we drove to the school to pick up his son," Jennifer McGirt said in a deposition.

The couple went to a GTE Credit Union to forge a check, she said. But she felt uneasy and the couple went home.

They were arrested by St. Petersburg police detectives who had them under surveillance.

Jennifer McGirt remained in jail. Her husband made bail.

Ripplinger said being behind bars didn't stop Jennifer McGirt. She trained another woman how to forge checks in phone calls from jail.