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BOSTON—Like most Washington-area residents, Bill Fairbairn knows John Tsombikos. Or at least he sounds like he does when, at the mention of the tagger’s street mark, he responds with an almost charmed “Oh, Borf.”
Except that Fairbairn doesn’t live in or around Washington. He’s a newspaper distributor for several Boston-area publications. “I’ve seen it on a few [newspaper boxes],” he says, claiming that the tag, which got sprayed on almost every inanimate object in the District in 2004 and most of 2005, has found its way to the Hub within the past “one or two months”—including one instance that Fairbairn says isn’t more than four weeks old. One tag, recently spotted on a Weekly Dig box, offers a whimsical sentiment reminiscent of classic Borf: “BORF IS IMMORTAL.”
Tsombikos was first arrested for tagging near Howard University last July, and in December, he agreed to a plea deal that required him to do 200 hours of community service—including graffiti cleanup—and avoid setting foot in the District except to attend classes at the Corcoran School of Art & Design. But there’s good reason to believe that the 18-year-old Tsombikos is still tagging: He was arrested a second time, in November, for vandalism in New York City.
That offense was revealed when a court employee was researching a report being compiled in advance of Tsombikos’ Feb. 9 sentencing. New York court records indicate that Tsombikos was arrested in Manhattan on Nov. 15 and charged with three misdemeanor counts: possession of graffiti materials, criminal mischief, and making graffiti. If he stays out of further trouble until a March 13 hearing and completes one day of community service, his New York case will likely be sealed.
Tsombikos’ mother, Kathleen Murphy of McLean, Va., says that her son has returned to the Corcoran for the spring semester. Murphy declined to comment or confirm his New York arrest, though she promised to pass on a reporter’s inquiries to him. Tsombikos did not reply by press time, and his lawyer did not return calls for comment.
If the Boston writing turns out to be Tsombikos’ doing, it wouldn’t be the first or only instance of an extra-District Borf spotting. In a Washington Post profile published after his D.C. arrest, Tsombikos admitted leaving Borf tags as far away as San Francisco. But if the Boston tags are brought before D.C. Superior Court Judge Lynn Leibovitz, and if she finds that there is enough evidence to show that Tsombikos is responsible, the price for the artist could be hefty. He faces as much as 10 years in jail and $5,000 in fines for felony destruction of property, and a continuing record could mean Tsombikos might actually see jail time.
And if the Boston tagging happened after Tsombikos’ Dec. 12 plea bargain, it could sour that deal, leading to additional charges. “It depends on when it occurred,” says Channing Phillips, spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office. “What it would in all likelihood be is a violation of his conditions of release.” On top of that, he says, Tsombikos could also be held in contempt of court.
Though the Borf tags may have migrated, the sensation hasn’t. Unlike most of Washington, Fairbairn isn’t too enamored of Borf’s skills. “The one I seen last night,” he says, “it was really pretty plain and simple, actually.” CP
Additional reporting by John Metcalfe