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Ex-DOE official posts $15K bail in airport luggage theft case

Updated December 14, 2022 - 3:06 pm

Samuel Otis Brinton, the former Department of Energy official suspected in recent thefts of women’s luggage at Las Vegas and Minneapolis airports, made an initial appearance Wednesday in Las Vegas Justice Court on a charge of grand larceny.

Brinton, 35, who was no longer employed with the Energy Department as of Monday, did not enter a plea but posted $15,000 bail. A status hearing on the felony case is scheduled for Jan. 11 before Judge Joseph M. Bonaventure.

The defendant’s attorney Adam Solinger said that “we are exploring all options available in conjunction with the District Attorney’s Office,” including a possible plea deal on the grand larceny charge.

Before the hearing, Solinger said he and his client were approached “TMZ style” by an aggressive local TV news crew while emerging from an elevator.

“That’s the first time I’ve been ambushed, literally ambushed,” said Solinger, who added that it appeared that the one crew was only the news outlet present.

Brinton, who is nonbinary and goes by pronouns “they/them,” was recorded on surveillance video at Harry Reid International Airport on July 9 walking with another person’s gray, hard-case luggage along with their own baggage, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

Police claim that Brinton had picked up the victim’s bag from the luggage carousel after arriving in Las Vegas from Dulles International Airport on July 6.

The former deputy assistant secretary of spent fuel and waste disposition at the DOE’s Office of Nuclear Energy then left the terminal with the baggage and boarded a shuttle bus to a rental car facility, Las Vegas police reported.

“Brinton demonstrated several signs of abnormal behavior while taking the victim’s luggage which are cues suspects typically give off when committing luggage theft,” such as examining the bag, placing it back in the carousel and looking around to see if anyone is watching, police said.

“Brinton only having checked one piece of luggage, which Brinton had already claimed from the carousel, had no reason to be examining and taking other people’s luggage,” police said.

Police said that Brinton allegedly took the gray hard-case suitcase with him on a July 9 flight back to Dulles airport outside Washington D.C.

The victim of the alleged theft reported it to police July 7. Detectives obtained a high-quality image of the suspect, dressed in a T-shirt with a large rainbow-colored atomic nuclear symbol design, pushing the wheeled stolen bag along with their own wheeled bag.

Police later located a post Brinton made on social media outlet Instagram, dated July 6, with them wearing a T-shirt with the same atomic nuclear design seen in the surveillance video.

Officers subpoenaed United Airlines to provide documentation on Brinton’s flight that day, UA1961 from Las Vegas to Dulles.

The woman who owned the suitcase had arrived at Reid on UA780 at 7:30 p.m. July 6 from Dulles and went to retrieve the three bags she checked, but could locate only two and filed a police report the next day.

A detective assigned to the case took down names of 96 passengers on that flight but was unable to locate a suspect.

Then on Nov. 29, police reopened the case after an unarmed security officer at Reid read news articles about someone named Samuel Brinton mentioned as a suspect in the theft of a woman’s luggage at Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. The security guard noticed photographs of Brinton in the stories, leading Las Vegas police to find their name on the manifest of the July 6 flight.

The victim in the Reid luggage theft told police the bag was worth $320, jewelry inside it $1,700, clothing worth $850, makeup at $500, contact lenses worth $150 and toiletries at $150 for a total value of $3,670.

Brinton attorney Solinger said that to his knowledge the allegedly purloined bag in question had not yet been returned to the owner.

Contact Jeff Burbank at jburbank@reviewjournal.com. Follow him @JeffBurbank2 on Twitter.

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