Federal case is made of missing magazine Police officer accused of taking publication


Call it People vs. Bruce Blum.

Blum, the federal government contends, did "willfully, unlawfully, knowingly steal and knowingly convert to his own use without authority a thing of value of the United States of America, to wit People('s) magazine."

Newsstand price: $2.69.

The 45-year-old police officer, a Gaithersburg resident, says he is not guilty and will stand trial in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt next month.

Estimated cost to taxpayers: $3,200.

"I think that it is ridiculous that the U.S. attorney is going to prosecute a police officer for allegedly stealing a $2 magazine," says Blum's lawyer, Henry L. Belsky. "It is the type of situation that should be handled as an internal matter, not a two-day jury trial."

But U.S. Attorney Lynne A. Battaglia said that because the incident happened on federal property, "We are the only people who can enforce the law there."

Battaglia said the charge might appear minor, but "not when it involves a police officer. We hold police officers to a higher standard."

Blum's trouble began in the fall when a staff member of the patient library at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda noticed that magazines -- Time, People and U.S. News and World Report -- were disappearing overnight. In the morning, only the plastic binders remained.

Librarian Kay Klayman told NIH Police that besides her, only one staff member had a key.

Just after Thanksgiving, Klayman reported the theft of the same titles, with an addition, perhaps reflecting the desire to defeat holiday flab: Men's Fitness.

NIH Police sprang into action. On Dec. 5, according to court documents, officers installed a camera and video recorder "to surreptitiously monitor the magazines."

For two weeks, nothing. Then pay dirt.

When Klayman opened the library at 11 a.m. Dec. 19, she found a People-less binder on the table near her office.

The video was viewed by Detective Lawrence Brown, Capt. Willard Liston and Chief Thomas Rufty. The culprit, according to Liston's affidavit, "was captured on frame 27: 20: 16" and was no stranger to the three officers: NIH Police Sgt. Bruce Blum.

The play-by-play of the video, as provided by Liston, notes that after he entered the library, "Blum looked around, up and down, and then exited the view of the camera to the magazine rack. Blum re-entered the view of the camera carrying a paper object in his hand. He then turned his back to the camera and adjusted his clothing, with the paper object disappearing from view and both hands then appearing empty."

Police suspect he stuffed the magazine in his pants. No one else appears on the tape.

Blum, an eight-year veteran of the 50-member department, was arraigned March 4. If convicted, he could be sentenced to six months in prison. Defense lawyers say that, in general, juries often refuse to find defendants guilty in misdemeanor cases in federal court because they expect to deal with weightier matters. "Federal jurors come in and expect to have a federal case," explained one.

Then, too, jurors might take into consideration the date of the trial: April Fool's Day.

Pub Date: 3/12/97

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