Howard Barco stepped out of Erie County Judge Daniel Brabender’s courtroom to speak with his lawyer, then excused himself to use the restroom, minutes before his sentencing in a series of Erie County theft cases on July 30, 2020.
Barco, accused of stealing from golf courses, gas stations and college campuses, never returned to the courtroom that morning.
When Barco skipped a second scheduled sentencing a little more than a month later, Brabender sentenced him anyway. The judge gave the Buffalo-area man up to 15 years in prison on felony and misdemeanor charges Barco had pleaded guilty to.
“He’s obviously a menace to society and will have to be sentenced as such,” Brabender said at the time.
Nearly two years later, Barco resurfaced almost 500 miles removed from the Erie County Courthouse.
Authorities in Tennessee report that Barco was apprehended in a traffic stop last week as law enforcement agencies in several counties were investigating a rash of credit card thefts and the illegal use of stolen cards in their areas.
Barco, who is now 61, was in jail in Loudon County, Tennessee, southwest of Knoxville, on Tuesday, according to an official at the Loudon County Jail. Barco was jailed on a felony fugitive from justice warrant, and he is scheduled to appear in court for a hearing on July 6, according to an official in the county’s General Sessions Court.
Authorities said Barco is also facing criminal charges in some Tennessee counties, including Knox County, which surrounds Knoxville.
One investigator involved in the cases said Barco is accused of stealing credit cards and using them to make a number of illegal purchases. Many of the cards were stolen from golf establishments, including country clubs, and were used immediately after they were taken, the official said.
The thefts are similar to some of the ones Barco was accused of committing locally.
The Corry Police Department charged Barco with felony burglary and other offenses after accusing him of stealing cash, checkbooks and credit cards from the Corry Country Club and the Fork and Barrel Restaurant on May 2, 2019. The Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office charged Barco with grand larceny after accusing him of taking a wallet from a purse at the Bemus Point Golf Course on July 18, 2019.
The local crimes
Barco’s local crime spree first came to light following the May 2 thefts in Corry. Police released a surveillance video image of the theft suspect to the media and reported that, after stealing the items from the Corry Country Club and the Fork and Barrel Restaurant, the suspect drove to North East and Harborcreek Township and used the stolen credit cards to withdraw a total of $487.50 from the country club and restaurant accounts.
The first local law enforcement agency to identify and charge Barco with a crime was the Millcreek Township Police Department. Officers charged Barco on July 22, 2019, with a misdemeanor count of access device fraud after accusing him of stealing and using a credit card from the Sheetz on Peninsula Drive on May 3, 2019.
Corry police filed their charges against Barco on Aug. 14, 2019.
Authorities were able to identify Barco as their suspect through the assistance of law enforcement agencies in western New York. An investigator with the Chautauqua County Sheriff’s Office reported in August 2019 that investigators were able to get a license plate number while investigating the theft at Bemus Point Golf Course. With the assistance from law enforcement in Orchard Park, New York, where Barco is from, investigators were able to identify Barco as the suspect in the Bemus Point, Corry and Millcreek cases, the investigator said.
Corry theft suspect nabbed in New YorkAuthorities in Chautauqua County, New York, have apprehended a Buffalo-area man suspected of committing a rash
Barco was jailed in Chautauqua County following his apprehension. He was brought back to Erie County and was arraigned and jailed in the Corry and Millcreek cases in late October 2019.
By then, Barco was facing more local charges.
Penn State Behrend police in September 2019 charged Barco with misdemeanor counts of theft in two criminal cases. Investigators at the university accused Barco of stealing items from the Reed Union Building on campus in February and November 2018.
Also in September 2019, Mercyhurst University police charged Barco with two misdemeanor counts of theft on allegations he stole a wallet from a dining hall in Egan Hall and used the stolen credit cards in August 2018.
Man arraigned in Erie County theftsA Buffalo-area man accused of committing a rash of thefts from businesses and college campuses in Erie County
Barco waived all of his Erie County criminal cases to court and was free on bond when, in March 2020, he pleaded guilty to charges in the five criminal cases. He faced up to 26 years in prison on the charges.
Man pleads to charges in theft spreeA New York man accused of stealing from businesses and on college campuses in Erie County
Barco was scheduled to be sentenced before Erie County Judge Daniel Brabender on July 30, 2020. He showed up for court, but stepped out of the courtroom to speak with his lawyer before his sentencing.
Barco’s lawyer at the time, Wayne Johnson, returned to the courtroom alone. He said Barco went to the restroom, but when Johnson checked the restroom and the nearby hallway he could not find Barco.
Brabender issued arrest warrants for Barco on each of the five cases. The sentencing was rescheduled for Sept. 2, 2020.
Barco failed to appear for the rescheduled sentencing. Brabender sentenced him anyway, giving him a combined sentence of seven years, six months to 15 years in prison. The judge also ordered Barco to pay restitution totaling $887.28, and he kept the five bench warrants active.
Man sentenced in theft spreeA Buffalo-area man who dodged sentencing in five theft and access device fraud cases by fleeing from the Erie County
Erie County Assistant District Attorney Michael Burns said during the sentencing that Barco committed crimes in six other states besides Pennsylvania, and he called Barco a “career criminal, a career thief” with a crime spree spread over three decades.
“The community needs to be protected from someone like Mr. Barco,” Burns said.
It was unknown Tuesday when Barco might return to Erie County.
Contact Tim Hahn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ETNhahn.