- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Church officials believe a D.C. man arrested in connection with a theft in Northwest could be responsible for a string of burglaries from city churches in recent months.

Channing Phillips, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said Maurice Cesar, 46, was arrested on May 9 in connection with an incident on April 17 at Calvary Baptist Church in Northwest.

Mr. Cesar has not been indicted but currently faces one count of burglary after waiving his right to a preliminary hearing on May 26. He has a status hearing in D.C. Superior Court today.

Paul Rosstead, church administrator at Calvary Baptist Church, said he confronted Mr. Cesar in a church hallway on April 17, after a youth group had returned from a trip to Florida. Mr. Rosstead said Mr. Cesar told him that he was helping to unload rafting supplies that had been brought back from the trip.

Mr. Rosstead said he let Mr. Cesar go but made a phone call and learned that no one had been asked to perform such a task.

“At that point, we began to search the building for this gentleman and we found him in a back stairwell,” Mr. Rosstead said. He said Mr. Cesar gave him a “song and dance,” sticking to his story about unloading rafting supplies.

Mr. Rosstead said he asked Mr. Cesar if he could look inside a bag that was slung over his shoulder.

“There was a computer projector and a drum pad that we did not recognize as belonging to Calvary,” he said. Then Mr. Rosstead asked Mr. Cesar if he could take his photograph, and Mr. Cesar agreed. Mr. Rosstead said he took the photograph “to discourage him from coming back.”

After Mr. Cesar left, Mr. Rosstead learned that the items in the man’s bag belonged to a group that holds prayer services at the church.

Mr. Rosstead said he called the police and circulated Mr. Cesar’s photograph among some other pastors, who said they could place the man in their churches at about the time they experienced burglaries.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations, said that during the past six months there have been more than a dozen burglaries at about six city churches. In most cases, the thefts were of computer equipment, digital cameras, purses and cell phones left in unattended offices.

Mr. Rosstead said Calvary had experienced another burglary a few weeks before his confrontation with Mr. Cesar, in which the senior pastor’s purse was stolen from her office during church services and $3,000 was charged to her credit cards.

He also said that after the circulation of Mr. Cesar’s photograph, one of the church’s maintenance men produced another picture of Mr. Cesar that had been taken about five years ago when he was also suspected of stealing a purse from the church.

Mr. Lynch said he doesn’t expect the string of burglaries to change how the churches operate.

“Churches are in the business of being open and trusting, and that’s not going to change,” he said. “Hopefully the person responsible can be held accountable.”

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