They looked like any other couple out for a walk on Newbury Street Wednesday evening, pushing a stroller with a little boy under a blanket, drinking from a bottle. But Sok Sam and Kimhean Hong were not out walking just for pleasure: The upscale street draws tourists who park and leave cameras, laptops, and other electronics in plain view, and Boston police say they believe the Revere couple are responsible for a “major portion” of the car break-ins that have plagued the area.
They were caught Wednesday night, when, police say, Sam slipped a filed-down key into the lock of a black Acura that police were using as a bait car. Police say the two stole a Kindle, a camera, and a backpack, which they stashed in the stroller before starting to walk on.
Sam, 36, was arraigned Thursday in Boston Municipal Court and was ordered held on $1,000 bail on the Newbury Street charges and without bail on another matter from a Quincy court.
Hong, 32, was released at the scene with her child and will be summoned to court at a later date.
“Who’s going to suspect somebody walking down the street pushing a baby carriage?” said police Sergeant Detective Kenneth Lamb, who headed the operation. “For all intents and purposes, it’s a cover.”
After the sting, Lamb said, residents told police they saw Sam and Hong “walking around all the time.”
Lamb said police are still investigating, and more charges are possible against the two.
Newbury Street and the streets surrounding the Public Garden and the South End have been hit hard by car break-ins, he said, as many as five or six break-ins on some days. Police began using the bait car about three or four weeks ago, said Lamb, and have made one arrest prior to Wednesday.
“Mayor Menino is constantly drawing our attention to quality-of-life crimes; it really is a huge issue that we hear from people on,” Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis said in a phone interview. “We’ll always have to stay on top of it. One or two offenders who are sophisticated, like this team seems to be, can make a tremendous change in the overall figures of crime in a neighborhood.”
Sam appeared in court Thursday dressed in baggy jeans and a Red Sox sweatshirt, his hands cuffed in front of him. He pleaded not guilty to possession of a motor vehicle master key, breaking and entering in the night to commit a felony, and larceny over $250.
Sam’s lawyer, Patrick J. Murphy, said his client had been set up by police.
“This is essentially a victimless crime,” Murphy said. “It involves a car that was owned by the city of Boston, the Police Department. It involves a small amount of property, if we believe the allegations, a camera and a Kindle, that were owned by the city of Boston. The entire case, the entire ruse was set up by the Boston Police Department.”
His client, he said, has not been charged in any other break-ins.
While Assistant District Attorney Neil Flynn rattled off a long list of Sam’s prior brushes with the law — including an out-of-state record for burglary, approximately 10 defaults on Massachusetts court matters, three known aliases, and a “significant” prison sentence for mayhem and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon in Middlesex County — Murphy said that the record was wrong.
There was some confusion in court over Sam’s name and age, which Murphy said was Sok Sam, but which police and court documents list as both Sok or Sokol Sam. Murphy said Sam is 36; police documents show his age as 37.
Murphy said all charges on Sam’s record prior to 2000, including the Middlesex County prison sentence, belong to another individual. His client would have been just 15 when the sentence was handed down, said Murphy, and the matter would have been handled in juvenile court, not adult court.
“The Probation Department provided the court with a record that’s inaccurate,” said Murphy. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of that.”
Sam and Hong were arrested without incident, Lamb said. When police searched Sam, he said, they found nine filed-down car keys.
Murphy said the little boy in the stroller is not the biological son of Sam, who has two children ages 4 and 5. Hong told police that Sam is the child’s stepfather, and that the two are dating, said Lamb. Murphy said he could not confirm the relationship.
Lamb said police alerted social service authorities that Hong had her child present during the commission of a felony, and authorities will investigate.
He declined to elaborate on what made police believe the couple are responsible for more break-ins, on the ongoing investigation, or on whether police had searched Sam and Hong’s homes for other stolen goods.