Guilty Plea In Child Sex Abuse Case

SALISBURY — A Mardela man arrested this spring after several minors came forward and accused him of sexual abuse while in his care pleaded guilty this week to multiple charges and now faces as many as 125 years in jail.

On Tuesday, Stephen James Merritt, 39, pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual abuse of a minor and five counts of third-degree sex offense against eight minors who were in his care and custody. Merritt was arrested in March after several male teens came forward and told police they were sexually assaulted by him while they lived under his care and custody at the Last Chance Farm in Wicomico County.

Merritt is facing a maximum sentence of 125 years as a result of his plea and remained in custody until sentencing, which should come within about 90 days, according to Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello. A pre-sentence investigation and a mental evaluation were ordered prior to sentencing.

Arrest Warrant Issued

OCEAN CITY — A Pennsylvania man arrested on first-degree assault and other charges in July after a wild incident that began with an attempted drug sale to undercover OCPD officer on the Boardwalk, included the dragging of an OCPD officer alongside a vehicle and ended with him jumping into the bay before being caught hours later had a warrant sworn out for his arrest last week after failing to appear in court for a preliminary hearing.

Around 1:47 a.m. on July 16, Ocean City narcotics detectives, assisted by undercover and plainclothes officers, attempted to arrest Michael Joseph McGovern, 30, of Williamsport, Pa., for selling marijuana and ecstasy to an undercover detective. During the arrest, McGovern fled from police in the area of 19th Street and a description of the suspect was broadcast.

OCPD bicycle officers located McGovern as he was attempting to enter his vehicle. A brief struggle took place inside the vehicle with an OCPD officer on both the driver’s and passenger’s side. During the struggle, McGovern managed to start the vehicle and put it in reverse, dragging the OCPD officer on the driver’s side and nearly running over the officer on the passenger side.

The officer who was dragged on the driver’s side was eventually able to free himself by falling out of the vehicle and under the driver’s side door, which was still open. Other officers responded and a brief vehicle pursuit ensued before McGovern bailed out of his vehicle on the west side of Coastal Highway in the area of Marlin Drive.

OCPD officers continued to pursue McGovern on foot and later determined he had jumped in a canal in the area of 21st Street. OCPD officers were able to track McGovern to the area of 28th Street. The multi-agency search included the Maryland State Police Aviation Unit, the U.S. Coast Guard and a Maryland Natural Resources Police (NRP) marine unit.

Ocean City Police eventually located McGovern in a condominium on Eagle Drive around 4:38 a.m., or about three hours after the incident began.

McGovern was charged with first- and second-degree assault, assault on a law enforcement officer, resisting arrest, fleeing and eluding, reckless and negligent driving and two counts of distribution of marijuana and ecstasy. McGovern was scheduled to be arraigned last week, but failed to appear for court and had a bench warrant sworn out for his arrest.

OCPD Investigating Rental Scam

OCEAN CITY — The OCPD is investigating an ongoing Internet vacation rental scam that has reportedly victimized resort vacationers in recent weeks.

Recently, Ocean City police have received two complaints involving the use of the popular website “Craigslist.com” to obtain vacation deals or vacation rental property.  In both cases, the victims paid several hundred dollars with the promise of a rental unit while they were vacationing in Ocean City.  

Police have determined both instances were a scam and the investigation is ongoing. However, because the perpetrators are believed to be outside of the United States, it is not likely the victims will ever recover their stolen money.

The OCPD is advising citizens to be aware of a potential real estate rental scam involving the use of the popular Internet site “craigslist.com.”  The scam is similar to ones involving other popular retail posting sites such as “autotrader.com” and “ebay.com.”

The OCPD is reminding citizens to be cautious while using the Internet to search for vacation rentals.  While popular websites can be a valuable tool in finding reasonable vacation rentals, consumers need to beware of scammers who are posing as property owners.

Some of the most consistent “red flags” associated with rental scams are demonstrated through poor grammar, spelling errors, poor capitalization and punctuation in the information presented to consumers. In addition, if a vacation rental owner does not accept credit cards as a form of payment, they should almost always accept a personal check. 

Most scammers will only take cashier’s checks or ask for money to be wired to a specific account.  Lastly, renters should be cautious of a property owner who is hesitant or unwilling to provide additional information in regards to the rental property, such as amenities or photographs.

As a renter, one should take additional steps to ensure the owner and rentals are legitimate. There are several tips one should remember to avoid being a victim of an online rental scam. First, do not wire money to a suspected landlord and remember, regardless how convincing the tale, make sure the person renting the house to you actually owns it. 

Also, verify where to go and from whom to pick up the rental key. Make sure that the person and location are valid.  Finally, if renters have any suspicious concerns, follow their instincts.  Even if a fee is involved, renters are often safer dealing with a licensed real estate agent.

Chase Ends In DWI Arrest

BERLIN — An Ocean Pines man was arrested on drunk-driving and numerous other traffic violations last Sunday after allegedly leading a Worcester County Sheriff’s Deputy on a chase before finally stopping.

Around 9:45 p.m. last Sunday, a Worcester County Sheriff’s Deputy on routine patrol in the area of Route 50 and Holly Grove Rd. observed a vehicle driven by Robert Gross, 37, of Ocean Pines, pass by at a high rate of speed. According to police reports, when the deputy attempted to pull over Gross, the vehicle braked as if to stop before accelerating again and turning north on Route 589.

With the deputy in pursuit, Gross continued on Route 589, illegally passing other vehicles on two occasions, before heading north at a high rate of speed. In the area of the Ocean Pines community, traffic increased to the point the chase slowed to around 40 miles per hour, according to police reports.

Gross finally came to a stop near the South Gate at Ocean Pines. Upon making contact with the driver, the deputy detected the strong odor of an alcoholic beverage coming from his breath and person. Gross was charged with driving while intoxicated, fleeing and eluding, speeding, unsafe passage to the right, driving without current tags and driving an uninsured vehicle.

Shoplifting Arrest Leads To Drugs

BERLIN — An Ocean City woman was arrested on theft charges last week after allegedly attempting to leave the Berlin Wal-Mart with goods concealed in a shopping cart and was later found in possession of illegal drugs.

Last Friday, a Worcester County Sheriff’s deputy responded to the Wal-Mart on Route 50 for a reported theft. Store security had already detained a suspect, later identified as Jessica Lynn Boyd, 26, of Ocean City when the sheriff’s deputy arrived. The store security officer told police Boyd was observed concealing several items of merchandize under her purse and later passed all points of sale with the concealed goods.

At that point, Boyd was placed under arrest for theft. A search subsequent to the arrest turned up controlled dangerous substances (CDS) and paraphernalia on her person and additional charges were tacked on.

First-Degree Rape Alleged

SALISBURY — A Salisbury man faces first-degree rape, kidnapping and other serious charges this week after allegedly holding a female acquaintance against her will and sexually assaulting her in her residence last Saturday.

Around 2:30 a.m. last Saturday, Salisbury Police met with an adult female victim in reference to a reported rape. The victim told police she had been asleep in her residence when she was awakened by a suspect later identified as Daryl Lamont Hudgins, 50, of Salisbury, whom she knew prior to the alleged incident. According to the victim, Hudgins entered her residence uninvited and refused to let her leave.

Hudgins then sexually assaulted the victim and fled the area on foot. He was located a short time later by Salisbury Police detectives and was taken into custody. The victim sustained minor injuries during the assault and was treated at PRMC before being released. Hudgins was charged with first- and second-degree rape, numerous sex offenses, assault, burglary and kidnapping.

Threatening A Court Commissioner

SALISBURY — A Salisbury man was arrested last weekend for allegedly threatening a District Court Commissioner in Wicomico during his initial appearance for another crime earlier in August.

Last Saturday, a Wicomico County Sheriff’s Deputy responded to the District Court Commissioner’s Office in Salisbury for a reported threat. The deputy met with the District Court Commissioner, who told police the suspect, Bobby Goodwine, 44, of Salisbury, had just threatened him during an initial appearance for another crime. Goodwine was arrested back on August 12 for theft and was making an initial appearance on that charge.

Goodwine was charged with threatening a state official and was then taken before the same District Court Commissioner, who ordered him held on a $20,000 bond.

Assault At Storm Shelter

SALISBURY — A Salisbury woman was arrested on assault and false imprisonment charges last weekend after allegedly cornering two workers employed at a storm shelter for Hurricane Irene evacuees.

Last Saturday, a Wicomico County Sheriff’s deputy assigned to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, which was being utilized as a storm shelter during Hurricane Irene, observed a suspect later identified as Nancy Jang, 50, of Salisbury, had two workers backed into a corner and was refusing to allow them to pass.

The deputy intervened and allowed the workers to pass, at which point Jang allegedly pushed the deputy in an attempt to get to the workers, according to police reports. Jang was arrested and charged with second-degree assault, two counts of false imprisonment, disorderly conduct and obstructing and hindering free passage.

Threats Made With Gun

SALISBURY — A Salisbury man was arrested on first-degree assault and other charges this week after allegedly threatening and waving a gun at several individuals on a busy street.

Shortly before 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Salisbury Police responded to a residence on Isabella Street for a reported individual with a gun. Several witnesses told police a suspect, later identified as Louis Burden, 43, of Salisbury, had come out on his porch and yelled profanities at them. According to police reports, Burden then went back inside and returned a few moments later with a gun, which he waved in the air and pointed at the assembled group on the street.

Burden then went back inside without firing any shots. Salisbury Police made contact with Burden and convinced him to come out unarmed after about 10 minutes. A search of the residence turned up a small caliber handgun, an air gun and a BB gun pistol. Burden was arrested and charged with first-degree assault and numerous other charges.

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