‘Re­venge of the nerds’: Sus­pect caught in elab­o­rate trap

‘Magic’ com­mu­nity helps po­lice re­cover $8,000 worth of stolen cards

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY PETER HOL­LEY peter.hol­ley@wash­post.com

In the myth­i­cal world of “Magic: The Gath­er­ing,” a place ruled by gob­lins, dragons, wiz­ards and spells, there is noth­ing more pre­cious to a se­ri­ous player of the game than their “deck” — the 60 se­lect play­ing cards wielded among com­peti­tors like swords in battle.

A pow­er­ful deck with first-edi­tion cards and artist au­to­graphs can take years to amass and fetch thou­sands of dol­lars. A sin­gle, signed Black Lo­tus card — the Holy Grail among “Magic: The Gath­er­ing” col­lec­tors — will cost you as much as $29,000 on eBay right now.

Hav­ing your deck stolen — ap­par­ently not an un­com­mon oc­cur­rence at Magic tour­na­ments — does not merely rep­re­sent a fi­nan­cial blow to vic­tims; it’s a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing per­sonal set­back as well.

This ex­plains Magic fa­natic Kem­per Pogue’s re­ac­tion af­ter some­one broke into his car ear­lier this month and swiped 300 prized play­ing cards worth about $8,000.

“I went in the house, cracked open a beer, had a few sips and promptly started scream­ing ex­ple­tives as I waited for the po­lice to ar­rive,” said the 23-year-old from Wood­bridge, Va. “I’d been col­lect­ing th­ese cards since I was a kid, and over the years they’ve only in­creased in value. “I was hor­ri­fied.” He was also fu­ri­ous. Af­ter fil­ing a po­lice re­port, Pogue de­cided to do what a Magic char­ac­ter such as Gar­ruk Re­lent­less might do: hunt down his enemies with dogged fe­roc­ity — sans the battle ax.

He started by post­ing a de­tailed mes­sage on Face­book to alert friends in the Magic com­mu­nity about the theft. Then he be­gan call­ing stores in North­ern Vir­ginia and Mary­land that spe­cial­ize in sell­ing Magic trad­ing cards.

Un­less the thieves were big fans of the game as well, Pogue fig­ured he knew some­thing that they didn’t: The Magic com­mu­nity is not only fa­nat­i­cal and ob­ses­sive, it is also a tight-knit, nerds only club­house.

“When Magic play­ers hear that a col­lec­tion has been stolen, it’s heart­break­ing and they rally around each other to get it back,” Pogue said.

The Has­bro game, in­vented in 1993, is a $250 mil­lion-a-year brand with about 20 mil­lion play­ers and fans world­wide.

Craig Cun­ning­ham, a Prince Wil­liam County po­lice de­tec­tive who worked the case, said he knew about Poke­mon but had never heard of “Magic: The Gath­er­ing” and was shocked to learn on­line how much the cards might be worth. Cun­ning­ham doesn’t think he was the only one who un­der­es­ti­mated the cards’ value.

“I don’t think the bad guys ever re­al­ized how much value they were work­ing with,” he said. “We’re talk­ing about cards that are ex­pen­sive and rare. You can’t just get rid of it at a pawn shop, be­cause that’s too danger­ous.”

Not un­der­stand­ing their mer­chan­dise would prove to be the al­leged thieves’ un­do­ing. The owner of a card store in Vir­ginia — a friend of Pogue’s — re­ported that two men had come in hop­ing to sell cards match­ing the de­scrip­tion of the miss­ing col­lec­tion, po­lice said. The men seemed like novices hawk­ing stolen mer­chan­dise, the owner thought, so he redi­rected them to a popular gam­ing store in Spring­field called Cu­rio Cav­ern, where Pogue hap­pens to be a regular.

The two men showed up at the Spring­field lo­ca­tion the next af­ter­noon and were met by a store em­ployee al­ready on the look­out, Pogue said. The men told the em­ployee that they wanted to make a deal, but the em­ployee no­ticed that they had only about a third of the cards in their pos­ses­sion, store owner Tom Haid said.

The em­ployee, hop­ing to buy some more time and re­trieve the rest of Pogue’s col­lec­tion, asked the pair to re­turn at 8 p.m. to make a deal with his boss.

The men re­luc­tantly agreed.

With Haid, Pogue and po­lice work­ing to­gether, an elab­o­rate trap was laid that evening at Cu­rio Cav­ern. Two plain­clothes Fair­fax County po­lice of­fi­cers would wait in­side the store while more of­fi­cers would be po­si­tioned in the park­ing lot.

A “Be Back in 5 Min­utes” sign would be placed on the estab­lish­ment’s front door to keep the men from en­ter­ing the build­ing. Hid­ing in an un­marked ve­hi­cle, the em­ployee who had pre­vi­ously in­ter­acted with the men would then at­tempt to ver­ify their iden­ti­ties so po­lice could sur­round them to make an ar­rest.

It would be, Pogue said, the ul­ti­mate “re­venge of the nerds” sce­nario.

When the men showed up, the ruse worked. Re­buffed by the sign, they took a seat on a bench be­side the front door with the stolen card col­lec­tion in hand. And they waited.

Haid said the next thing he heard was the sound of dogs bark­ing and voices yelling at the men to get on the ground. Fair­fax County po­lice of­fi­cers who had been hid­ing in un­marked vehi- cles and be­hind the store sur­rounded the men with weapons drawn.

One of the men, Solomon Dy­onne Reed, 20, of Wood­bridge, was charged with felony pos­ses­sion of stolen prop­erty with in­tent to sell, ac­cord­ing to Fair­fax County Gen­eral Dis­trict Court records.

Reed was also charged with grand lar­ceny in Prince Wil­liam County, where the theft oc­curred, Cun­ning­ham said.

The other man was not charged; in­ves­ti­ga­tors do not be­lieve that he was in­volved in the theft of Pogue’s cards.

The re­cov­ered cards re­main in a Fair­fax po­lice ev­i­dence room, but Pogue said he ex­pects to have them back in his pos­ses­sion soon.

Un­til then, he is hop­ing his victory makes crim­i­nals think about tar­get­ing peo­ple who spend their free time play­ing an elab­o­rate card game marked by cast­ing spells, out­wit­ting op­po­nents and van­quish­ing foes.

“We burned ’ em!” he said. “We were one step ahead ev­ery step of the way.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.