Hundreds of books stolen from libraries

EVERETT — In the annals of crime, this one could rank somewhere between stealing church bells and manhole covers.

Book thieves pinched hundreds of volumes from the Sno-Isle Libraries in 2013 to sell for pennies on the dollar.

In one case, a Lynnwood man is accused of selling 2,471 pilfered library books to an online book dealer for $1,155. He could face charges of trafficking in stolen property.

In another case, an Everett- area couple is accused of stealing dozens of books from library shelves and selling them to a Lynnwood bookstore.

In both instances, people at the businesses that bought the books shared their suspicions with Sno-Isle librarians and police, leading to criminal investigations.

Prosecutors now are reviewing police reports in both cases for potential charges.

“You wouldn’t think that would be terribly lucrative in this electronic age,” Snohomish County chief criminal prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro said. “It is akin to metal thefts — a big loss to public agencies and taxpayer dollars” for not a lot of money.

In recent years, thieves in Snohomish County have stolen church bells, brass fire hose rings, urns from cemeteries, copper wire from the Snohomish PUD, manhole covers and sewer grates to sell as scrap metal.

Library books are just another product to peddle.

What the thieves probably don’t realize is that libraries, businesses and police work closely together when there is a suspicion that someone is stealing from the shelves, Sno-Isle Libraries spokesman Ken Harvey said.

Lynnwood detectives obtained a search warrant in October to get the online vendor payment records for the man who allegedly sold the 2,471 stolen library books. He reportedly began his enterprise in January 2013 through a website that lists the prices it pays for various volumes. He wasn’t particular about genres, hawking fiction, nonfiction and self-help books, among others.

In some cases, it appears he was using library computers to access a website that trades in used books, in part to decide which library books to steal.

The online bookseller became suspicious in March when one of the books received from the Lynnwood man included a Sno-Isle Libraries receipt. All of the other books had been devoid of any barcodes or markings of ownership.

Librarians then looked for each of the titles the man sold to the company and confirmed the books were missing from the Edmonds, Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace branches. The books were valued at more than $9,000.

Last spring, librarians were on the lookout for the man, who was spotted in each of the south county libraries, sometimes with a backpack full of books that hadn’t been checked out. He also was suspected of walking off with a library laptop computer in 2012 and was once stopped by police with a half-dozen DVDs that were suspected of being stolen.

Although the Lynnwood man is the prime suspect, it appears he had help, Harvey said.

The other case under review by prosecutors involved a middle-aged couple who are accused of taking books and trying to sell them to a local business.

“The stores are really sympathetic,” Harvey said. “They have to deal with shoplifters themselves.”

The number of books and other materials stolen from the library system is hard to calculate but is “ridiculously low,” Harvey said. Sno-Isle’s collection includes 1.1 million items and annual circulation that approaches 10 million.

While book thefts make a tiny dent in the overall collection, the crime “is really sad,” Harvey said. “It is the taxpayer who is getting ripped off. We are very thankful that it’s not an everyday occurrence.”

Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; stevick@heraldnet.com.

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