Saturday, July 31, 2010

Debit-Card Bandit Nabbed in Berkeley

By Anneli Rufus
Sat, Jul 31, 2010 at 8:55 AM

Officer Casimiro Pierantoni of the Berkeley Police Department's Community Services Bureau issued a crime update to North Berkeley residents yesterday regarding BPD's takedown of a debit-card thief in their neighborhood.

"In the weeks previous to May 15, it became apparent that we had a crime trend developing at the North Shattuck branch of the Bank of America," Pierantoni wrote. "We had taken several reports from bank patrons with very similar victim statements: The victims, after using an ATM and inadvertently leaving their bank cards in the machine, had some unknown suspect withdraw money from their accountd through the ATM. Sgt. Katherine Smith #S-18, a Patrol Division supervisor, looked at the cases and suspected that one of the solicitors who frequents the sidewalk in front of the B of A was responsible for the thefts. One particular individual that was known to loiter in the area drew Sgt. Smith¹s attention because of his previous criminal history.

"On the night of May 15, Sgt. Smith noticed that the individual in question was sitting on a crate in front of the B of A ATMs. Sgt. Smith kept an eye on the man and saw that he didn't move from that location for over two hours. A little after 9:00 p.m., Sgt. Smith went to the North Shattuck Safeway and purchased a prepaid debit card that allowed ATM withdrawals. Sgt. Smith quickly went on-line, activated the card¹s ATM capability, and assigned it a P.I.N. Sgt. Smith enlisted the assistance of other Patrol Division members and put her plan into action.

"Officer Alex McDougall #77 and Officer John Ettare #156 took up locations near the B of A that gave them views of the ATMs and the suspect. Sgt. Smith drove her fellow Patrol Division supervisor, Sgt. Peter Hong #S-27, to the 1500 block of Henry St. and handed him the activated debit card. Sgt. Hong, dressed in plain clothes, walked to the B of A and began to use one of the ATMs.

"While he was using the ATM, Sgt. Hong talked on his cell phone and tried to appear distracted. Ofc. McDougall and Ofc. Ettare both noticed that the suspect was watching Sgt. Hong intently as he was using the ATM. After Sgt. Hong completed a $20 withdrawal, he walked away from the ATM leaving the card in the machine and the transaction still 'active.' After Sgt. Hong had walked around the building and out of sight, the suspect jumped up and immediately went to the ATM that Sgt. Hong had been using. Officer McDougall and Ofc. Ettare watched as the suspect made a $60 withdrawal out the debit card account. After completing the transaction, the suspect was quickly detained by Ofc. McDougall and Ofc. Ettare.

"While Ofc. McDougall was handcuffing the suspect, he noticed that the suspect was clutching something in his right hand. Ofc. McDougall pulled the items from the suspect's hand and discovered they were the ATM receipts for Sgt. Hong's $20 withdrawal and the subsequent $60 withdrawal the suspect made. Sgt. Hong joined the officers and searched the suspect. Sgt. Hong recovered the $60 and the debit card from the suspect's right front pant pocket.

"Jason Eugene Miller (2-17-69) of Berkeley was arrested for theft of a bank account access card, fraudulent use of a bank account access card, possession of stolen property, and violation of probation.

"I have no doubt that Miller would have continued to victimize B of A patrons if not for the actions of Sgt. Smith and her teammates. This is another example of the type of focused and data-analysis-driven crime fighting (mixed with a little out-of-the-box thinking) that your Police Department is engaging in daily."

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