Soho woman: I was arrested for trying to return lost bag
By Albert Amateau
A Soho resident who thought she was being a good Samaritan when she picked up an apparently forgotten shopping bag on a bench on the Columbus Circle No. 1 subway platform on the afternoon of June 14, ended up spending five hours in the Midtown Community Court and being booked for petit larceny.
Helen Calthorpe, 52, found out later that she had been caught in a police sting known as Lucky Bag that has been in operation in the subway system since February. The operation involves police putting a shopping bag or backpack on a subway bench and arresting anyone who picks it up for petit larceny and possession of stolen property.
Calthorpe, who lives on Grand St. in Soho, pleaded not guilty on July 14 and is due to appear in Criminal Court at 100 Centre St. on Sept. 18.
A spokesperson for the New York Civil Liberties Union, Maggie Gram, said of the Lucky Bag operation: Its a sting that reeks of entrapment. Theres enough criminal activity without the cops inventing it.
Police, however, say Lucky Bag is a successful operation. In February, Chief Michael Collins was quoted in a commuter Web site, www.bridgeandtunnelclub.com, saying, The type of people we find who commit the larceny of removing the bag we leave out are the type of people who are committing all types of crimes.
Police spokespersons did not comment for this story.
Calthorpe, an actress who was going to her day job at about 1 p.m. on June 14, saw the Verizon shopping bag, looked in and saw a box for a cell phone and an iPod beside it and picked up the bag. She was immediately surrounded by four police officers, one in uniform and the others in plainclothes.
They kept asking, Where are you going with that bag? and put me in handcuffs with my hands behind me, Calthorpe said in an interview last week during which she insisted she had never been arrested before and was victimized by police.
She recalled that she had been in a hurry to get to her job and intended to look into the bag later to see if there was a receipt with an address of the person who lost it.
I was going to call up and say Id found it the same thing happed to me a couple of years ago when I lost my wallet in the subway and a man from Queens called me to say he found it, Calthorpe said.
She said she spent an hour at the Community Court on W. 54th St. before she was allowed to make a phone call. She phoned her employer at her part-time job to say she couldnt make it that day.
Calthorpe said that while she was in one of the holding cells at the Midtown Court, police brought in a man in handcuffs who had apparently picked up a Lucky backpack.
I heard him tell his boss on the phone that he got a lucky bag and he sounded disgusted by it all, Calthorpe said.
I refused to plead guilty, even if its a misdemeanor or whatever, she said. I dont want anything remotely like that on my record.