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Ventura County

Libraries Closed to Simi Man

Judge places 85-year-old on probation in the theft of more than 3,500 books and videos.

November 13, 2002|Holly J. Wolcott | Times Staff Writer

It was a fate worse than jail.

By the time the final chapter ended in a Ventura County courtroom Tuesday afternoon, 85-year-old book thief Ernest Heyneman had been banned from all area libraries and ordered to hand over his library card by sundown.

The frail, onetime movie studio employee, who pleaded no contest to commercial burglary after being accused of stealing more than 3,500 books and videos, had hoped to work a deal that would have allowed him to return to his favorite reading rooms with the supervision of an escort.

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kevin J. McGee rejected that request but said the longtime Simi Valley resident didn't need psychological counseling, as prosecutors had sought. McGee called the four-year theft spree "truly an aberration."

McGee placed Heyneman on three years' probation and banned him from obtaining any new library cards.

Heyneman's Ventura attorney, Stanley D. Sumalpong, said his client was remorseful and devastated by the punishment.

"He loves books. He found solace in books," Sumalpong said outside court. "The penalty is jail for him. Worse than jail."

Heyneman, clad in a gray sports coat, matching pants and a turtleneck sweater, shuffled slowly into court, flanked by his grown daughter and walking with the assistance of a gold cane and his petite wife's arm.

Heyneman said nothing during or after the proceeding.

"My husband is very sorry," said Heyneman's wife, Emma, 75. "He wants you to know we will do anything you decree ... please use compassion."

Although the felony burglary charge to which Heyneman pleaded no contest was punishable by up to three years in prison, prosecutors never sought to have him incarcerated.

"It's always sad to see a senior citizen committing crime," said Deputy Dist. Atty. Audrey Rohn, "but we need to protect the libraries from Mr. Heyneman. He can't control his compulsion to take books."

According to authorities, Heyneman would visit the Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks libraries regularly, reading and culling the stacks for hours. He would then check out several books, videos and audiotapes, take them home and remove the security strips before returning the borrowed items on time. Heyneman would return to the libraries and smuggle out the desensitized materials.

In December, after a Thousand Oaks librarian noticed a dearth in the facility's medical books and made the link to Heyneman, authorities searched his historic home on Heyneman Lane and seized 124 boxes of library materials.

The collection included the video "Liberace Live" and the book "All I Need To Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek."

Sumalpong said his client was an avid reader and particularly interested in medical books because his two grown daughters each battled cancer and survived.

In court, Sumalpong said his client's actions also were the result of getting along in years and possibly a mental condition for which he offered no evidence.

Rohn wasn't swayed.

"Turning old," she said, "doesn't turn you into a thief."

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