Yash Kanani gave information that led to the arrest of the man who robbed his store. But he did not get the $12,000 reward because he was the victim of the crime. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)
Forced into the back room of his convenience store by an armed robber, Yash Kanani counted out 15 seconds before he opened the door.
Kanani recognized the man from the first time he had held up his store just weeks earlier, and remembered the thief had taken about 15 seconds to collect the store's cash and leave. This time, with adrenaline rushing through him, Kanani followed the man as he jumped into a silver Honda and relayed the car's license plate number to a dispatcher.
It was the big break detectives needed to catch a suspect Baltimore police called their "Most Wanted." Police say Stanley Macklin robbed 50 businesses in Baltimore City and County, including the Hamilton News Mart in Northeast Baltimore twice.
But while the FBI had offered a $12,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Macklin — money that Kanani said could have helped cover more than $10,000 in losses and security upgrades — the federal agency has deemed him ineligible.
The FBI said crime victims and witnesses are expected to provide information to law enforcement. The reward is meant for tipsters who may not be connected to the case but come forward with critical information.
"We offer rewards because it's incentive for people to come forward when they have information that has not been given to law enforcement," FBI Baltimore office spokeswoman Amy J. Thoreson said. "We know we're asking a lot of people to come forward, when it could be at risk to their own safety."
"The store owner in this case was a victim and witness to a crime," she added, referring to Kanani. "We hope all witnesses to crimes would give all the information they have to police when they are interviewed by detectives immediately after the event."
Metro Crime Stoppers generally follows the same guidelines to determine who is eligible. However, the program allows tipsters to remain anonymous, so there is no way of verifying if a victim is the tipster, program board chairman Earl Winterling said.
When people who identify themselves as crime victims call tip lines for the FBI and Metro Crime Stoppers, operators tell them to call police.
Last year, Crime Stoppers gave out about $8,000 in rewards, the organization said. The FBI paid out several rewards last year; Thoreson didn't have specific dollar amounts.
It can be difficult to convince victims to speak up, especially in a city like Baltimore with a stubborn "no snitching" street code. City detectives say they often have a difficult time getting victims to speak out.
Mai Fernandez, executive director for the National Center for Victims of Crime, said that's one reason victims should be eligible for rewards through law enforcement tip programs. In Kanani's case, she added, he likely took a greater risk than an anonymous tipster.
"Being a victim and having information on a crime doesn't make you two different people. You're one and the same," she said. "For all the reasons you would give an incentive to a nonvictim, those same incentives are there for a victim."
Kanani's family also wonders why his willingness to put his safety in jeopardy isn't taken into consideration.
"He had a gun," Deepa Kanani, Kanani's sister, said of the suspect. "He might have turned around and shot him."
Macklin, 35, is accused of a robbery spree that began in October and continued until March 7, when Kanani's tip led police to a rental car contract in Macklin's name. He was arrested March 18 and faces multiple armed robbery charges.
John Markus, an assistant public defender who is representing Macklin, said police haven't charged his client in all of the robberies they allege he carried out.
"He is presumed innocent, and we will fully investigate all charges in Baltimore City, but at this point we're only aware of two cases," Markus said.
Detectives and FBI agents initially dubbed the suspect the "Khaki Pants" robber because that's what they say he often wore as he coolly pointed a gun at convenience clerks and gas station attendants before walking out with cash and cigarettes.
In January, the FBI offered $2,000 for information leading to the arrest of a suspect, but in Februaryincreased the reward to $12,000 as the suspect became more prolific. Baltimore police made him their first "Most Wanted" suspect.
"We need someone to step forward and help get this person off the street," Baltimore Deputy Commissioner Kevin Davis said at a February news conference. "He's terrorizing our business community."
Kanani and his sister were first hit on Dec. 14, when police say the bandit walked in an hour before closing time and robbed the store before they could hit a panic button. He came back March 7 and forced Kanani and a customer into a back room before fleeing, police said.
When Kanani got home, he said, hisfather told him, "You shouldn't have followed him. Money you can replace, but your life you can't."
The Hamilton News Mart, near the corner of Harford Road and Hamilton Avenue, has been in business since1942. Kanani, 24, and his family have owned it for nearly five years. He commutes from Rosedale, where he lives with his parents and sister, and mans the mart every day.
Kanani came to the United States about a dozen years ago from Mumbai, India. He loves running a business and has humble ambitions. Five to 10 years from now, he said, he hopes to "maybe have a liquor store or something."
The Hamilton News Mart carries anything the Maryland Lottery offers. It sells bags of Utz chips for a quarter and sodas for $1. It hawks almanac and numerology booklets and provides ample counter space and brown leather chairs and tables near the magazine rack.
Customers spend time filling out their lottery slips, and friendships and familiarity develop between customers and clerks.
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But now, people have to stick cash in a revolving glass enclosure to buy cigarettes or scratch tickets from Kanani, who stands behind 1-inch thick protective glass— a $7,500 investment he made this month.
"I think it's awful because it's so impersonal but it's for protection," frequent customer Darchelle Edmonds said.
About $3,000 was stolen from the News Mart in the two robberies, and Kanani said his insurance deductible is too high to make a claim without pushing his premium up. A spokeswoman for the Baltimore state's attorney's office said prosecutors will seek restitution for all 50 stores Macklin is accused of robbing when they prosecute him.
The city state's attorney's office and the state Criminal Injuries Compensation Board offer crime victims some financial assistance, including money for lost income or related expenses. Kanani has not explored those options.