Investigators link tobacco, phone store burglaries

Surveillance of the white mini-van seen leaving the Admiral Tobacco on July 25, 2014. (Photo courtesy: Kent County Sheriff's Department)

COMSTOCK PARK, Mich. (WOOD) – Investigators from several West Michigan police agencies told 24 Hour News 8 that at least eight burglaries across four counties were likely committed by the same crew.

“They seem to be well organized.  Their method of operation is the same.  The way that they enter the buildings is the same. They’re in and out in a matter of minutes and they’re all wearing the same type of clothing – very well concealed,” said Kent County Sheriff’s Department Captain Kevin Kelley.

A map of the eight confirmed burglaries this crew seems to be connected to, most in the Grand Rapids area.
A map of the eight confirmed burglaries this crew seems to be connected to, most in the Grand Rapids area.

The latest burglary happened just before 6 a.m. at the Admiral Tobacco store at 5309 Alpine Avenue NW in Comstock Park.

Investigators said the suspects, who are described as males wearing dark, hooded sweatshirts and pants, broke into the store and stole cash and several cartons of cigarettes.

A white, newer model mini-van was seen leaving the store around the time of the burglary and may be connected to the crime, the release said.

The narrative sounds exactly like another burglary, less than two miles away and a month earlier.

On June 28, a crew of three men broke into Alpine Liquors, 4032 Alpine Ave NW, at just before 4 a.m.. The men were quick, organized, and prepared. One man even brought a black garbage bag with him to carry out cigarettes.  While he stole the smokes, the two other crew members targeted other high value items.

Ken Singh, a part owner of Alpine Liquor, said the burglars stole more than $10,000 in cash and property in less than five minutes, and broke three doors with crowbars.

“They seemed pretty professional,” said Singh.

Alpine Liquors caught the crew at work on their security cameras.  The there were in and out of the store in about 90 seconds. They never show their full faces to the cameras, although one does show a glimpse of a part of his. The pants of one are also falling down in another shot, revealing plaid boxer shorts and part of a backside.

“Police were here within like eight minutes or so but [the crew was] already gone from here,” said Singh.

Police said Alpine Liquors is one of at least eight stores in West Michigan hit by this crew since April.

Officials said they think the burglars are from the Detroit area, and they target high value items like cell phones, cigarettes and liquor.  Those things are easy to sell on the black market.

Burglaries elsewhere include one in Allendale at a Sprint store in April 8.  Captain Mark Bennett described the burglars in that incident as “brazen.”  He said the crew of five that time was in and out within five minutes, and were calculated in their goal “almost to the point of being rehearsed.”

Bennett said Friday that group stole about $10,000 in cell phones in a few minutes.  Authorities said they believe those phones were likely shipped overseas to be sold.  The same crew is believed responsible for that hit.

24 Hour News 8 confirmed police believe the same group is responsible for five burglaries in Kent County, one in Ottawa, one in Muskegon and one in Ingham County.

Police are hoping for answers, before something worse happens.

“You know anytime that somebody forcefully breaks into a building in the wee hours of the morning, they should be considered dangerous,” said Kelley.

He said the sheriff’s department is urging business owners to not leave any merchandise out in stores over night, and to install alarms and cameras “any type of deterrent they can install that would help us apprehend these individuals is what we’re looking for.”

Singh echoed that sentiment Friday.  “I would tell all of the businesses to install better locks cause these commercials doors don’t stand a chance against crow bars.”

Singh said Alpine Liquors is currently installing locks on business doors that would be resistant to crow bars.

Anyone with information should call the Kent County Sheriff’s Department at 616.336.3113 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.

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