RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Richmond man pleaded guilty Wednesday to stealing a truck that contained President Barack Obama's audio equipment and other trappings of the office, including presidential seals and a podium.
Eric Brown, 49, entered his plea before U.S. District Judge John A. Gibney, who scheduled sentencing for April 11. The recommended sentence under a plea agreement with the government is seven years.
Brown could have been sentenced to up to 10 years and fined up to $250,000 if he was convicted at trial of the charge, theft of government property.
The 2005 van, owned by the Defense Information Systems Agency, was stolen from a suburban Richmond hotel on Oct. 15, 2011, ahead of a visit several days later by Obama, who was to begin a three-day bus tour of Virginia and North Carolina to promote his jobs plan. The van, empty of its contents, was recovered the next day on the other side of town.
While the theft sparked speculation about whether the presidential equipment was specifically targeted, an FBI affidavit later suggested it was part of a series of thefts.
Brown apparently did not know the van contained the presidential equipment, which also included speakers, a microphone, a U.S. and presidential flag and a laptop computer. Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request put the value of the stolen equipment at $200,000.
Brown became a suspect after surveillance video at the hotel showed a sport utility vehicle that was registered to the defendant's wife. Investigators also obtained cellphone records showing Brown was near the truck at the time it was stolen, according to the FBI.
The link to Brown and the thefts was supported by witnesses who said they saw him in possession of the laptop.
Brown transported the equipment to a public storage locker in Hyattsville, Md., less than a week after the theft, and some of the equipment was later recovered at pawn shops at two locations in Maryland.
The government and Brown's attorney, David R. Lett, declined to comment after the brief plea hearing.
Steve Szkotak can be reached on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sszkotakap
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