After two break-ins to their Pho Le restaurant on Dorchester Avenue, and several other unsuccessful attempts since February – all allegedly by the same man – it was hard for Tran Le and her family to put into words how relieved they were on March 17 when Boston Police officers dropped by to say they had finally arrested the persistent intruder.
It was much easier that night for them to put into words how disappointing and frustrating it was for them to hear that the same man had reportedly broken into their restaurant for a third time and again caused significant damage to the business after he had been released from custody
“He stole a lot of stuff from our business last time,” said Tran Le during the Fields Corner Civic Association (FCCA) meeting on April 5. “He had been arrested that Thursday (March 17) and we were so relieved. The police came by to tell us they had caught him that Thursday. Then that Thursday night and into Friday, he broke in again. That’s what I don’t understand. He’s taken stuff from multiple places. I don’t understand why he’s still out there. Why isn’t anything happening to him?”
That incident, as well as many other break-ins – all suspected to be the criminal acts of the same man, 50-year-old Fields Corner resident Thanh Cong Le (not related to Tran Le) – has led police to call him a “One Man Crime Wave.” The situation has elicited ongoing frustrations by both police and community members about a small group of alleged criminals in the area who are arrested frequently and then sent back onto the street after brief appearances in Dorchester District Court or other courthouses – even though, police say, some of the charges involve illegal weapon possession.
“Things have been happening,” Police Officer Mike Keaney told the community at the April 5 meeting in response to Tran Le’s question. “We’ve been arresting him. Unfortunately, the courts are letting him out left and right…We’re seeing people let out all the time, and even people with open gun cases out on personal recognizance or low bail and they get arrested again with a gun.
“It’s always personal recognizance or low bail. It’s regrettable. We keep arresting the same people for the same things. This guy is a notorious thief – breaking into businesses or cars. If they see a mark, they just go after it. You all are really preaching to the choir.”
Added Sgt. Tim Golden, “We do our job. It’s up to the judge. In this case, the judge released him…It’s frustrating on our end, too.”
District Attorney Kevin Hayden said he also has found the situation frustrating. He noted that in the most recent arraignment for breaking and entering, the DA’s office requested Thanh Le be held on $1,000 bail. He will remain in jail for 90 days under that condition.
“These crimes are frightening and harmful for the residents and business owners of Fields Corner,” Hayden told the Reporter this week. “In fewer than five months, Mr. Le has been identified and charged in six crimes. Other, similar offenses in Fields Corner remain under investigation. For now, Le remains held on a bail revocation.”
The DA continued: “My office intends to hold Mr. Le fully accountable for his serious violations while ensuring that he has access to the services and resources that might help prevent future incidents like this. We are working closely with our partners in the community, law enforcement, and at City Hall to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the Fields Corner community.”
A list of offenses going back to last November for Thanh Le is troubling, multiple sources said.
Hayden’s office said Thanh Le was arraigned on Nov. 23 on possession of a Class A substance, possession of a Class B substance, and resisting arrest. Bail was set at $100, but the next day he was arraigned again on charges of receiving stolen property, possession of a Class B substance, breaking and entering during the daytime, and larceny under $1,200. Prosecutors said they requested $1,000 bail and other provisos, but the suspect was released on personal recognizance – or without any bail.
On Jan. 10, he was arraigned again on breaking and entering during the daytime and trespassing, and prosecutors requested $500 bail. He was released on personal recognizance again.
Most recently, on March 31, he was arraigned for breaking into a restaurant in the daytime cases, with a bail of $1,000 asked and a request to revoke his three other bails so that he would be held for 90 days. That was granted and he remains in jail. That said, he was arraigned again recently for a March 8 shoplifting arrest, with a bail of $10 set.
At the meeting, police detailed other cases that are still in the works. One is a March 19 investigation into a break-in at another nearby restaurant, just one day after the March 18 break-in at Pho Le. From video evidence, detectives believe Thanh Le to be the culprit. On March 9, he allegedly broke into a home on Hecla Street while a resident was inside, and then fled in a car with stolen plates.
On March 16, officers spotted the suspect vehicle in Fields Corner and stopped it; Thanh Le was inside. However, the victim from Hecla Street refused to identify the suspect, saying only that “karma” would get him instead, according to Keaney.
In the most recent statistics that we put out by the Boston Police on April 3, the year-to-date totals show that most of the reported property crimes are going up in District C-11, which includes Fields Corner. Commercial burglaries are up to 9 from 5 last year, and residential break-ins are up to 27 from 20 on C-11. Auto thefts have more than doubled to date this year, and larcenies from motor vehicles are up significantly over the five-year average.
The “one man crime wave” and other cases spoken about by police have some in the community wondering if the welfare of the suspects in crimes are being prioritized above that of victims and residents. There is also discussion about treatment options and how drugs and alcohol might be factoring into this and other situations. Can a balance can be achieved where criminals get the help they need without a victimization of residents and businesses.
The matter of former DA Rachael Rollins’s ‘List of 15’ crimes that she implemented as a way of not prosecuting offenders for minor offenses has also come up in conversations, with some wondering how it might be affecting cases like this one and others.
DA Hayden’s office said the ‘List of 15’ doesn’t include any of the offenses charged in Thanh Le’s case, adding that it wasn’t meant to address cases involving repeat offenders. Under Hayden’s leadership, the list has been expanded to increase access to services and treatment if cases sync up with such a need. However, the office said such access would not apply, and did not apply, to this case.
Which is of little comfort to merchants like Tran Le.
“The restaurant has been open since 2010, and nothing like this has ever happened before – maybe some minor things – but nothing that resulted in repeated thefts like this,” he said. “We feel like we’re so helpless in this situation. That’s the worst feeling. We’re feeling victimized.”