The Baltimore man dubbed the "Dine and Dasher" by police is at it again, authorities and restaurant owners say.
Andrew Palmer, 46, notorious for racking up food and drink tabs at area restaurants, then faking seizures to get out of paying the bill, was arrested early Monday after owners said he refused to pay a $50 bill at Viccino Jay's Italian Gourmet on Charles Street.
The night before, he went limp at upscale barbecue restaurant Oliver Speck's in Harbor East when it was time to settle up on a $90 tab, according to the owner and a patron.
"The paramedics showed up and said, 'Looks like our guy's back,'" said Oliver Speck's chef Jesse Sandlin. "He would not wake up, and they were like, 'Come on Andy, stop faking.'"
Police say Palmer, who has a career rap sheet more than 90 arrests long and has been found guilty of petty theft at least eight times in the past year, is making the rounds again.
He's being held at Central Booking in lieu of $1,500 bail. His most recent public defender did not return a message seeking comment. Court records list Palmer as homeless or at an address on South Broadway that no longer exists.
It's not that prosecutors haven't been able to win convictions against Palmer. It's that the crime — in most cases, theft under $100 — doesn't carry a large enough penalty to deter someone with a taste for good food and drink who's willing to do jail time. And because it's a nonviolent offense, those who are found guilty serve only a fraction of their sentences.
Officials with the Baltimore state's attorney's office could not be reached for comment, but police accounts from recent cases tell a familiar story.
In December, police say, he had the $24.99 shrimp platter and four alcoholic beverages at the Inner Harbor's Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory. "This is an ongoing problem with Mr. Palmer in the downtown area," Officer Daniel Sexton wrote in charging documents.
In January, police say, he went large at Sullivan's Steakhouse, ordering the chicken piccata with a lobster add-on, a 22-ounce ribeye steak, four Blue Moon beers, three Bacardis and, for good measure, a coffee. It led to his second arrest of the week.
"Palmer's seizure occurred when he was confronted about his unpaid bill as he exited the restaurant," Officer Michael McGrath wrote in a statement of probable cause. McGrath added that Palmer is "well known to local restaurants and members of the Baltimore Police Department."
The unpaid tab: $160. The sentence: one year in jail.
He was out by July. That month, police say, he had three Blue Moon drafts, an espresso martini, two beers from Union Brewing Co. and three Stoli Oranges at the Admiral's Cup, good for a $72 bill, then went into the back of the Fells Point restaurant and had what appeared to be a seizure. In writing a report, the officer listed Palmer's alias as "Dine and Dasher."
Court records show the case was dropped, but he received a citation for another theft charge a few days later and got 90 days in jail.
Matt Belardi, 37, was hanging out at Oliver Speck's in Harbor East on Saturday night when he said patrons noticed the man at the bar mumbling to himself.
Sandlin said Palmer was dressed normally and was pleasant. He had ordered the pork chops, macaroni and cheese, soup and several drinks. A bartender believed he was getting too intoxicated, and Sandlin said to cut him off. She said he collected his things, then put his head down on the bar and passed out.
Belardi was skeptical. "You could tell he wasn't really passed out. He had gone from zero to blackout in the snap of a finger," Belardi said.
Sandlin called police and said the officer who arrived said the best she could do was write him a citation, and it is unclear whether one was issued. No such charge for that night appears in the state's court records database, and a police spokesman could not say late Tuesday what action, if any, the officer took.
The next night, police charged Palmer with refusing to pay at Viccino Jay's Italian Gourmet, near Penn Station.
"He was just watching the football game, eating food, and when it came time to pay, he didn't have any money," said manager Jeri Shuck, who said Palmer didn't require medical attention that night. "It's a horrible thing for someone to be doing, but for him it's a pretty good situation — get a free meal, get locked up, get a free meal. Just a running circle."
Sandlin's frustrated that authorities can't put a stop to it.
"If this guy came up and mugged me on the street and took $90 from me, he would've gotten arrested," she said.
Unarmed robbery, when something is taken by force, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, but theft, a property crime, brings a maximum of 90 days.
"What's the difference in the end?" Sandlin asked.
Palmer has been convicted of ripping off the Capital Grille, the now-closed Burke's and Shucker's, Maisy's, and restaurants in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and St. Mary's counties.
In 2010, prosecutors beefed up the charges, combining a slew of cases into a theft scheme charge that brought a heavier maximum penalty. He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months.
When he was released last summer, police put out an alert to restaurants that Palmer was back in circulation. And over the course of seven days in late July and early August, Palmer was arrested three times.
Two of those cases included charges of making a false call requiring an ambulance response. That carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, but prosecutors dropped the charges.
The city Fire Department said it has to respond to the 911 calls related to Palmer and eat the costs.
"We treat each patient according to the complaint, signs and symptoms," said spokesman Ian Brennan. "In the case of an uninsured individual or in rare repeat cases like this, the bill usually goes unpaid."
When customers skip out on the tab, Shuck said, it typically comes out of the server's paycheck. Belardi said Palmer is also distracting paramedics from more serious calls.
"I don't think the guy understands that he also may be tying up EMS paramedics from helping somebody who really needs it," the Oliver Speck's patron said.
In the meantime, Sandlin says, restaurateurs need to spread word about Palmer so he is easily recognized and establishments can refuse service. She has posted his mug shot on her Facebook page.