‘Revenge of the nerds’: Suspect caught in elaborate trap
‘Magic’ community helps police recover $8,000 worth of stolen cards
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.”