Baltimore police raided the city's elections warehouse yesterday and arrested an employee who they say illegally copied hundreds of movie DVDs and then stored some of them at the facility, the same place where voting machines and other election supplies are housed.
Police arrived at the warehouse at 11:45 a.m. and presented supervisors with a warrant to search the premises as well as a car belonging to employee Jeffrey M. Brzostek. Brzostek, 40, cooperated with police and told them where to find some of the stashed DVDs.
Police said 17 counterfeit DVDs were confiscated at the warehouse - including copies of recent Hollywood productions Shrek the Third and Nacho Libre - and 19 more - including new releases such as The Nanny Diaries and 3:10 to Yuma - in the trunk of Brzostek's Toyota Camry.
Along with the counterfeit DVDs, police also said they found receipts from Amazon.com for legitimate movies that Brzostek ordered from the Internet store. He had the movies delivered to his home address in the 600 block of S. Lakewood Ave. in Canton but apparently brought some of them to the elections facility.
Police said it wasn't immediately determined where the illegal copies were made, but the investigation continues.
After seizing the counterfeit DVDs found at the warehouse and in Brzostek's car, police went to his rowhouse, where they reported finding an additional 330 counterfeit DVDs. Forty-nine more illegal DVDs were found in a car belonging to Brzostek's mother, bringing the total to 415, police said.
After the search of Brzostek's home yesterday afternoon, he was charged with the possession, manufacturing and distribution of counterfeit DVDs, misdemeanors in Baltimore.
Federal charges could follow, but it was unclear yesterday whether the case was extensive enough to warrant investigation by the FBI, according to police spokesman Sterling Clifford.
City officials and police found out about the pirated DVDs recently and moved quickly to make sure that the election process was not jeopardized, said Clifford, who was present at the raid at the elections warehouse, at 301 N. Franklintown Road in West Baltimore.
"We wanted to avoid any perception that the elections process was comprimised," Clifford said. "To our knowledge, the [alleged] illegal activity at that location was at no time connected to the election or any election. No Board of Elections equipment was used improperly."
Linda H. Lamone, the state elections chief, said she was aware of the police search and had been assured that there had been no tampering with voting machines - most of which were removed from the warehouse and delivered to polling places Thursday. To protect against any allegations of tampering, city police were accompanied by state troopers
The Baltimore Board of Elections is a state agency. Members of the elections board are appointed by the governor.
Lamone said that elections board supervisors were cooperating with police. She said she was confident that the primary election would not be affected by the police search.
"There is absolutely no question about the integrity of the voting units because of our existing standard operating procedures of security," she said.
City police did not disclose exactly how they learned of the DVDs, but Clifford, the police spokesman, said a vice detective had recently made contact with someone who had knowledge of the items.
Police had a search warrant Thursday night but when they arrived at the one-story brick warehouse it was locked and they didn't want to cut locks at the building. They waited until yesterday morning so they could enter the building without incident.
When police arrived at the front door of the warehouse, they rang the doorbell and eventually an employee let them in. Once inside, the officers - about a dozen in all from the department's vice unit - went looking for Brzostek. They found him at the back of the warehouse where he was organizing Election Day signs.
All other employees were instructed to present a photo identification card and were later dismissed for an early lunch break.
About a half-hour after police had entered the facility, city Elections Director Armstead B.C. Jones Sr. arrived on the scene. Jones did not return telephone calls from a reporter seeking comment on the police raid or the arrest of Brzostek.
During a tour of the elections building, police Sgt. Suzanne Fries, who helped organize the raid, showed a reporter how to identify a pirated DVD. She said the faces of illegal DVDs are blank, their cases are much slimmer than those sold in stores and they have covers that have clearly been reproduced on a color copier machine.
The DVDs that police found at the warehouse and in Brzostek's car were similar to those described by Fries.