Case Western Reserve student told $2,000 in media checked out using his stolen library card

Stolen library card used to take 73 library items

CLEVELAND - It's been a tough couple of weeks for Case Western Reserve University graduate student Maneesh Gujrati.

First, his car was broken into on Oct. 3, and then someone used the library card stolen from his vehicle to check out 73 items from two library branches.

Gujrati told NewsChannel5 he was stunned after receiving a notice from the Cleveland Public Library that library items were checked out using his stolen library card. 

DVDs, CDs and other media were taken out under his library account, which Gujrati estimates total more than $2,000.

Gujrati told 5 On Your Side he quickly filed a police report about his car break-in, but didn't realize his library card was taken from the center glove box until he received the first notice from the library.

Gujrati then reported his library card missing on Oct. 15, but by then all the items had been taken from the main branch on Superior Avenue and the Cleveland Heights branch on Noble Road.

The CWRU graduate student called both branches, but claims he was told he would be completely responsible for the replacement cost on all the media taken using his card.

"My car was broken into, my property was stolen, and now as a consequence of that I'm being held liable for someone else stealing other property," Gujrati said.

"I just don't get how a library system could let someone be in possession of 73 items, especially DVD's something that valuable, at one time. I feel like their system should have noticed something, a red flag should have been raised that someone was checking out a large amount of DVD's over a short period of time."

NewsChannel5 checked with both the Cleveland and Cleveland Heights library systems, and we were told whoever used the stolen card had a detailed understanding of their current circulation policies.

Cleveland Public Library Assistant Marketing Director Cathy Poilpre told NewsChannel5 library card holders are allowed a limit of eight DVDs and no more than 50 total pieces on their account at one time.

Poilpre reports the crook checked out items right up to the posted limits and then went to the Cleveland Heights branch to take out the remaining items. The Cleveland Heights branch has a higher limit -- library card holds can take out up to 75 items.

Poilpre told NewsChannel5 the Cleveland Public Library has no intention in lowering the limits placed on checked out materials.

"We want people to continue to have access to up to 50 items if they want," Poilpre said.

"People really need to treat library cards like they were a credit card. If they're lost or stolen, they really need to report them right away, otherwise people can take out items on their card and run up their bill."

After NewsChannel5 brought this case to the attention of the Cleveland Public Library, it has now decided to no longer hold Gujrati responsible for items taken from its main branch.

"I understand that there was a police report. He could bring that in to our lending manager and she will take care of his fines for him," said Poilpre.

The Cleveland Heights Public Library is still deciding whether to drop all fees, and issued the following statement:

Our limit for borrowing is currently 75 items. The Board of Trustees is considering lowering this limit but has not yet made a decision. Theoretically the thieves could use the card to check out 75 items or items that total $1500. This is both theft and fraud. We count on our law enforcement agencies to assist us in prosecuting anyone who commits these crimes. 

If a card is stolen, the customer is asked to report the theft immediately to the police and is asked to present us with the police report. This does not erase the charges but it does provide enough information to stop the card from being used again and investigate the circumstances.

I would recommend that the customer also notify their insurance company of the theft, especially if the amount of liability is high. We employee a collection agency to pursue any fines over $25 that are outstanding longer than 60 days. Once an account is sent to collections the customer is also charged a $10 processing fee.

A number of possibilities may play out at this point. We may remove the customer from the collections process. We may issue a new card to the customer. We may forgive the charges for some, or all of the items, depending on the circumstances.

A police report is not proof that a crime has been committed. It is only an account by one person or possible witness. We may wait until some legal resolution of the matter before making a final decision.

People must realize that there is a financial responsibility that accompanies the use of a library card. They provide a photo ID and proof of place of residence before a card is issued. Parents assume this responsibility for their minor children when a library card is issued to a child. In your words "a library card is like a credit card." 

We are accountable to our tax payers to make our materials available

to everyone and we will prosecute both fraud and theft to the full extent of the law.

Gujrati told NewsChannel5 he learned an important lesson about the responsibilities that go along with carrying a library card.

"I'll make sure to keep my library card in my wallet at all times," said Gujrati. "You can be sure I won't leave it just sitting in my car anymore."

The complete Cleveland Public Library Circulation policy can be found here .

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