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UNITED STATES v. STEGMAIER

June 6, 1975

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
GEORGE J. STEGMAIER and DELORES POLLACK



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DITTER

 The defendants are charged with offenses growing out of an alleged bank burglary. They have filed motions to suppress, asserting that physical evidence was improperly seized and that the taking of their statements violated constitutional rights. A three day hearing was held during which twelve witnesses testified and numerous exhibits were received in evidence. This opinion will constitute my findings of fact and conclusions as to the disposition of these motions.

 Some time during the night of October 2-3, 1974, the First National Bank and Trust Company of Newtown, Newtown, Pennsylvania, was burglarized. Among the items taken from the bank were $80,000. in blank, American Express travelers checks.

 On October 6, 1974, James McHugh, a police officer in Dade County, Florida, was alerted by other officers to the fact that two men and a woman were passing stolen travelers checks at various motels in the Miami area. In each instance, one or more travelers checks was used to pay for a motel room with a return of cash as change. Suspicion was aroused when an alert desk clerk, who worked at two motels, recognized that the same individual had registered at both within a short time.

 As a result of information he received from one of its employees, Officer McHugh went to the Chateau Motel, Miami, and took the defendant, Delores Pollack, into custody at about 2:30 p.m., October 6. At the time of her arrest, Mrs. Pollack's purse was clutched in her hands. Officer McHugh searched it for weapons and then gave her the Miranda warnings which she said she understood. Mrs. Pollack identified herself as Ann Matt, and in her bag were various items of identification in that name. However, she was unfamiliar with her supposed date of birth and other data on the cards she was carrying. In addition, she had 36 American Express travelers checks, now admittedly stolen from the Newtown bank.

 Since Mrs. Pollack matched the description of one of the persons who was circulating the stolen travelers checks and since she negotiated such a check at the Chateau Motel, I conclude that there was probable cause for her arrest. The seizure of her purse was incident to that arrest and was therefore lawful.

 Following her arrest, Mrs. Pollack was interviewed by two Dade County detectives, Fred Pelney and Terry Palmer. Again she was advised of her Miranda rights, which she said she understood. She agreed to speak to the officers.

 She told them her name was Delores Whitehead and that she had purchased $2000. in travelers checks for $500. from two brothers, Mike and James Thomas, at a bar in Philadelphia, knowing the checks to have been stolen. She then said she had flown to Florida and had commenced cashing the checks. The officers knew that Mrs. Pollack had been driving a vehicle since keys for it were found in her purse. In addition, the reports from the various motel employees indicated the use of an automobile. They asked her about the car and she admitted possession of a rented vehicle and gave them consent to search it, signing an appropriate form. She also told them her true name was Delores Pollack as identification in the car would show. The propriety of the car's search is not challenged.

 William Blackburn, Jr., is employed in the Miami area as an investigator for American Express. Having learned that stolen American Express travelers checks were being passed in the motel area and that Mrs. Pollack had been arrested, he went to the Dade County police headquarters where she was being held. When Detectives Pelney and Palmer left the station to go to Mrs. Pollack's automobile, Blackburn requested permission to accompany them because he thought that the remaining stolen checks might be in her vehicle.

 At approximately 7:30 p.m., the detectives and Mr. Blackburn went to the Chateau Motel, the motel where Mrs. Pollack had been arrested, and there found a rented automobile bearing New Jersey license plate, 135CAF. In the glove compartment of this car was a red wallet which contained a photograph of Mrs. Pollack with five other persons and a small white poodle. In addition, there were a variety of identification cards including those of Delores Pollack, Delores Stewart, Delores Gramigna, and Delores Whitehead. There were also seven different motel keys and a matchbook cover from an eighth motel, the Olympia.

 After calling several motels to see if there were any additional reports of travelers checks having been presented by persons matching the descriptions already on hand, the officers went to the Olympia where they spoke to the desk clerk. They told him they had reason to believe that two white men, between the ages of 20 and 30, one of whom had a mustache, and a white woman, aged 30 to 40, were passing stolen travelers checks. They asked if persons matching those descriptions were at the motel and he directed them to Room 121. Detective Pelney and Mr. Blackburn proceeded along an outside corridor to see if there was any vehicle at the room in question. When they reached Room 121, they observed that the door was wide open, the television set was on, and they saw a man whom Detective Pelney identified at the hearing as the defendant, George Stegmaier, seated on the bed. Stegmaier was holding a small, white poodle.

 Detective Pelney identified himself and asked the man his name. Stegmaier gave a name and said that he was from New York. He stated he was staying with another man in this room and that the other man was out with his girlfriend and that his, Stegmaier's, identification was in his friend's car. Detective Pelney felt that Stegmaier fitted the description of one of the men for whom he was looking since he was of the same approximate age and height, clean shaven, and had brown hair.

 Nonetheless, Detective Pelney and Mr. Blackburn returned to the motel desk. Blackburn commented that the dog which the man in the motel room was holding looked like the dog which was in the picture of Mrs. Pollack. Detective Pelney then examined the registration card for Room 121. He saw that it had been engaged by Michael Thomlin and James Sill and that reference was made to a vehicle bearing license 135CAF, the same license number of the car which they had searched at the Chateau Motel.

 He and Detective Palmer, with Blackburn following, then went back to Room 121 to arrest the occupant Pelney had seen there. When they arrived, the door was closed but they could still hear the television set. The blinds were also drawn. Receiving no response to their knock, they obtained a passkey and entered. They searched the bathroom, closet, and under the beds, looking for the man with whom Pelney had just conversed or his companion, but found no one -- although the dog was still present. There was luggage, clothing, a variety of other articles, and on one of the beds, Mr. Blackburn saw a folded, white paper bag. Through it he could see a bluish tinge. From this color, the size, and shape of the bag, he concluded it contained American Express travelers checks. He opened it. Inside were 340 travelers checks with a face value of $19,800, admittedly stolen from the Newtown Bank. Detective Pelney picked up other items, ...


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