Manchester man says he'll fight charges after police sting using shopping cart
MANCHESTER - Police sting operations - long the province of undercover drug deals and Internet sex chat rooms - found a home in a South Willow Street parking lot Monday night, when police arrested a Manchester man who threw a purse and DVD player from an unattended shopping cart into the trunk of his car and took off.
Police intentionally placed the shopping cart, a purse with $60, and bagged item in the parking lot, hoping to snare a would-be thief.
But Manchester resident Alexander Ramasci, 23, said he meant to go home, figure out who the owner was and return the property.
A store clerk who works for the state Liquor Commission, Ramasci feels he was entrapped.
"It was one thing if I broke into a car and ripped a purse out of a lady's hand, I could understand them calling me a thief," Ramasci said. He said his stepfather was a police officer in Burlington, Mass., for 10 years and now works in federal law enforcement.
Manchester police said this is the second year that its Special Enforcement Team has set up sting operations in local shopping centers in an effort to ensure shopper safety.
Earlier Monday night, similar stings took place at Walmart and the Mall of New Hampshire. In those cases, shoppers and store employees brought the purse into the stores in an effort to find an owner.
State law requires that anyone who finds lost or mislaid property take reasonable steps to find the owner, police Lt. Maureen Tessier said.
"The property left unattended had markings and other indicators that would clearly demonstrate to the finder that it was not abandoned property and that there were steps that person could take to find the property owner," Tessier said.
Plans to fight charges
Ramasci faces a Class A misdemeanor charge of theft of lost or mislaid property. He was bailed on his own recognizance and spoke to the New Hampshire Union Leader on Tuesday.
He said he noticed the shopping cart when he entered Game Stop to buy a Christmas present for his brother. After buying the gift, he went up to the shopping cart, removed the purse and bag and put it in his car.
When police pulled him over, they first accused him of making a drug deal, he said.
Ramasci said he intended to bring the material home, figure out who the owner was and return it.
Years ago when he was a youth, he found a wallet, brought it home and his mother mailed it to the owner. Ramasci said it "probably would have been a smarter thing" to bring the property into a store.
He said he doesn't have a record of theft. His only record at Manchester District Court involves motor vehicle violations, tobacco possession by a minor and littering.
He said he will hire a lawyer and fight the charges, fearing a conviction will hurt his future career possibilities. Ramasci said he attended Hesser College and took some business management courses, but he could not continue because of his inability to get financial aid.
Ramasci lives at home, and when he's not working, he cares for his 8-year-old sister, he said.
A case of entrapment?
Two criminal justice instructors at the University of New Hampshire were intrigued by the case.
Ted Kirkpatrick, a criminologist co-director of UNH JusticeWorks, said he's sure the police hashed out the legal issues behind the sting. It appears police aren't trying to protect retailers; the material had already been supposedly purchased and was outside the store. It appears police are trying to create an urban environment where a forgetful person can expect to have a mislaid wallet returned, Kirkpatrick said.
"The cops can do anything they want. The real arbiter on this is the courts," he said.
Charles Putnam, a former prosecutor and co-director of JusticeWorks, said in order to win a conviction, police will have to prove Ramasci intended to steal the property.
Illegal entrapment involves a two-part test: did police inducements go beyond an ordinary opportunity to commit a crime, and was the person predisposed to commit the crime.
Tessier said police plan to continue the shopping stings.
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Mark Hayward may be reached at email@example.com.