“Some days they don’t get anything and some days [the thieves] rack in thousands of dollars.”
This past June Pickens resident Robin Pitkins had her purse stolen from her car in broad daylight. Authorities have found the theft to be tied to a statewide ring.
A purse stolen from a local church parking lot earlier this summer has now been linked to a statewide theft ring with ties to Utah as well, according to Sergeant Matt Dawkins with the Jasper Police Department.
In a broad daylight crime in June, the owner of a mini-van found her window smashed and purse stolen after leaving her car for only a few minutes in the Jasper United Methodist Church parking lot. The owner of the car, Robyn Pitkins, hoped the thieves just wanted the cash from the wallet but it turns out they used her identification and checks as part of a grander scheme that nets participants as much as $3,000 a day, Dawkins said.
The thieves likely used a “punch,” a small needle-type device, to shatter Pitkins’ car window, Dawkins said.
“Those windows are made to shatter in an accident and the glass just dropped straight down when they hit it with a punch, resulting in very little noise,” Dawkins said. “It can take more time for them to get in and out of their car than it would for them to do the crime.”
Pitkins’ checkbook and driver’s license were stolen and the thieves were able to use the information to steal thousands of dollars from a personal checking account.
Dawkins said two people have been arrested in Fayette County, a white female and a black female, for attempting to cash stolen checks with stolen identification. Dawkins would not release their names pending further investigation but after interviewing one of the subjects feels it is related to Pitkins’ case.
“It’s a huge theft ring that goes from Georgia to some people who were arrested in Utah,” he said. “Some of the people out there are from Henry and Tift counties.”
Dawkins said Pitkins’ driver’s license was used near Albany and in Henry County, among other places.
The thieves’ MO is to go to a bank’s drive-thru, going to the lane farthest from the cashier where they use one person’s stolen checks to write out a check to another person from whom they have stolen identification. In one instance, the thieves wrote a check payable to Pitkins from a check stolen from a Clayton County resident. They used Pitkins’ ID to get the cashier to pay out the money, Dawkins said. The two women arrested in the theft ring, though they haven’t been charged in the Pitkins case, had wigs in their car, allowing them to look, from a distance, like the person whose ID they stole.
“This all starts coming into a bigger (theft) circle,” Dawkins said. “I believe when those two girls got caught down there they had wigs in the car. It’s just a huge theft ring.”
Dawkins said some officials estimate that they were making $3,000 a day on the heist.
According to the sergeant, the thieves write the checks for amounts less than $1,000 since many banks require people cashing checks of $1,000 or more to come inside, not at a drive-thru, to conduct the transaction.
“From what I gathered in my interview with one of the suspects they just drive around looking for an opportunity,” Dawkins said. “Some days they don’t get anything and some days they rack in thousands of dollars.”
Dawkins said it “wound up to be a huge, huge thing and she (Pitkins) was just caught in the middle of it.”
The officer encouraged residents to stay alert.
“It was a crime of opportunity,” he said. “If it’s not in sight then most of the time the criminals don’t pilfer through a car looking for things. But a pocketbook or a [computer] tablet sitting in the front seat is an easy target. Be aware of your surroundings all the time. They say the economy’s getting better but there are still people out there without jobs and desperate people do desperate things.”
Dawkins said the case is ongoing as local investigators await more information from Henry and Tift counties.