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Laptop bandit sentenced to 10 years in prison

TAMPA — Stealing laptops from Outback Steakhouse's Tampa headquarters and other big-name companies in the state earned a career criminal 10 years in prison on Wednesday.

It was the maximum term allowed by law that Eric Brandon Almly could receive.

"The only way to protect the public from Mr. Almly is to keep him in prison," U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr. said.

Almly, 34, pleaded guilty in June to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property. Prosecutors said he crisscrossed the country stealing laptops from businesses and then selling them through eBay.

Investigators had dubbed Almly the "Khaki Bandit." Authorities said he'd slip into corporate offices during business hours, mix among employees and then walk away with laptops in a shoulder bag. He pleaded guilty to stealing 11 laptops from the West Shore Boulevard headquarters of Outback's parent company, OSI Restaurant Partners.

Authorities said he also stole laptops from the Miami headquarters of Burger King Corp. and the FedEx Corp.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Palermo said Almly carried out his scheme in Arizona and California before coming to Florida.

In court, Almly blamed his crimes on a gambling problem.

"My mind-set was, 'All I needed was one good night at the casino, and I wouldn't have to steal again,' " Almly said in court. "I would like to sincerely apologize to Outback Steakhouse and the other companies I stole laptops from."

Nonetheless, Judge Moody seemed unmoved by Almly's remorse.

"I find that the likelihood of Mr. Almly reoffending is extremely high," the judge said.

Moody mentioned that Almly's criminal record stretched back to when he was 12. The judge said he didn't think Almly's gambling problem dated back that far.

Toni Brown, a Phoenix police detective who headed a task force investigating Almly, testified at the sentencing that Almly once called to brag about his crimes. He claimed to be an official with eBay. Brown said when she pressed him again for his name "he kind of chuckled."

"He said, 'You know who this is. I'm a master at the game. You'll never catch me,' " Brown recalled.

Kevin Graham can be reached at kgraham@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3433.

Laptop bandit sentenced to 10 years in prison 12/10/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 11, 2008 12:06am]
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