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Anthony Bennett, the chronic thief at the centre of David Chen's controversial vigilante case, has a 33-year criminal record and is a long-term crack addict shopkeepers claim has been plaguing their stores downtown for upward of a decade.

He is also a father of six trying to help his wheelchair-using domestic partner and support his kids, while struggling to overcome his addictions and get his life back on track, Donald Powell, his lawyer, said.

Mr. Powell said Mr. Chen and his two employees punched and hog-tied Mr. Bennett before locking him inside a truck for an hour - excessive force even if the citizen's arrest was lawful, which Mr. Powell says it wasn't.

Mr. Chen's lawyer, Peter Lindsay, said Mr. Chen did what was necessary to stop the man who had stolen from his store only an hour before, tied his hands and feet with twine and kept him in a truck to keep him from escaping for the four minutes it took for police to arrive.

Mr. Bennett, 51, came to Canada from the Caribbean and has lived in Ontario and British Columbia. At a court appearance Aug. 17, he was sentenced to 30 days after pleading guilty to two counts of theft, one against Mr. Chen and one against Hamid Kheiry, who claims Mr. Bennett has stolen from his florist shop more than a dozen times in the past 18 months.

Mr. Powell said Mr. Bennett has a history working for a chain restaurant in B.C. His six children range in age from early teens to 26; the youngest two still live with Mr. Bennett and his partner, the lawyer said.

The woman would have been at his August bail hearing, Mr. Powell said at the time, but she was with their 17-year-old son who was appearing the same day in criminal court elsewhere in the city.

Mr. Bennett's numerous criminal charges date back to 1976. The vast majority are for petty theft, drug possession and violation of probation conditions.

But he has also been convicted of fraud over $200, assault with the intent to resist arrest, invitation to sexual touching and uttering threats.

Mr. Bennett recently moved to Scarborough from Jameson Street in Parkdale - in the hopes, Mr. Powell said, that living in a more stable, less crime-ridden area will help keep him out of trouble.

A woman who answered the phone at Mr. Bennett's home Thursday hung up on a reporter, saying Mr. Bennett doesn't want to talk about Mr. Chen's case.

Mr. Lindsay has collected affidavits from numerous business owners in and around Chinatown claiming Mr. Bennett has stolen from them numerous times. Mr. Powell said as far as he knows his client hasn't committed any crimes since his court appearance Aug. 17.

Mr. Powell noted the statute on citizen's arrests exists to keep normal people from taking the law into their own hands, and for good reason.

"The big concern, of course, is vigilantism. … That's the balance that has to be struck," he said. "The police have acted properly in arresting the people who captured Mr. Bennett, and they've charged Mr. Bennett. The police did what they had to do."