Between duplicity and Margaritaville

Buying a used laptop turns into a preconcert adventure.

By BEN MONTGOMERY, Times Staff Writer
Published November 17, 2007

TAMPA -- Jamie Adair had two tickets to see Jimmy Buffett on Nov. 1. He had never seen Buffett live and was eager, but he had business to take care of first.

Adair, 31, is a chef and real-estate speculator. His laptop was malfunctioning, so he got on Craigslist a few hours before the show and found a Mac for sale for $750. He offered $550.

The seller, Robert Peoples, supposedly on a trip to Boston, accepted the offer via e-mail and asked Jamie for his number. He wanted to put Jamie in touch with his friend in Tampa to complete the sale. Jamie's cell rang a few seconds later. It was the friend, Mick.

Mick told Jamie to pick him up downtown so they could fetch the laptop. Jamie brought his friend, Carl, who's good with Macs.

Mick rode in the back seat and they made small talk as they drove toward Mick's place. Mick said he's from Boston and plays in a band. He said he jumped the fence at Guavaween rather than pay admission, which struck Jamie as odd.

When the three arrived at a duplex in Tampa Heights, Mick told Jamie and Carl to wait in the car because his roommate had broken a lot of glass inside. Jamie found this curious, too.

When Mick returned, Carl tested the machine. Carl showed Jamie that the laptop's owner was listed in the computer. It was not Robert Peoples.

Who's Gerard? Jamie asked.

I don't know, Mick said.

Says here, Carl said, that this is his computer.

Carl's pointed observation worried Jamie. "I was thinking, 'Carl, you're going to get shanked,'" Jamie said later.

Jamie came up with an excuse to leave. He and Carl drove to Ybor City and met a friend who suggested they check Facebook.com for the name inside the computer. Jamie found a listing for Gerard, a student at the University of Tampa. Jamie called the campus police to see if anyone had reported a stolen laptop.

I'll get back to you, the officer said.

"It was dismissive," Jamie recalled.

Ten minutes slid by. Jamie's phone rang. The officer said a laptop had been stolen from a dorm room four days earlier. The officer told Jamie he was going to call the Tampa police.

Then, the officer told Jamie to call Mick again and try to set up a meeting to buy the computer.

A sting.

"I'm thinking, this is getting to be fun," Jamie said. "It doesn't usually get this far. The cop is supposed to call three weeks later and say they found the computer in the river or something."

Jamie obliged. But Mick said he had another buyer.

Jamie called the UT officer again. The officer told him to make a higher offer. The concert was starting in 45 minutes.

"At this point, I'm thinking I'm really going to screw up Jimmy Buffett," Jamie said.

Jamie called Mick again. He made a higher offer, $700, but Mick refused. Mick said he was meeting the other buyer, but there had been a car accident and the buyer must be stuck in traffic. Jamie heard sirens.

Jamie hung up and called a Tampa cop who had left him a message. Listen, Jamie said, I know that he's at an accident. Check the scanner.

What does the suspect look like? the officer asked.

He has big earrings, Jamie said. He's on foot. And he's probably holding a computer.

When Jamie hung up, he thought the fun was over. He drove toward the Ford Amphitheater. Just before he arrived, his cell rang again.

We got him, the officer said. He was carrying the stolen laptop.

As Joseph Michael "Mick" Costello III, 20, was booked in Orient Road Jail on charges of burglary of an unoccupied dwelling, grand theft and dealing in stolen property, Jamie found his seats in section 307, row V, in time to hear Jimmy Buffett sing Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes:

With all of our running and all of our cunning,

If we couldn't laugh, we would all go insane.

Jamie printed a picture of Costello from the sheriff's Web site and posted the story on his blog under the headline, The craziest thing that has ever happened to me.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.


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