Police Beat: Unloading stolen vending machine proves difficult

Staff writerDecember 28, 2013 

Editor’s note: Compiled from reports to Tacoma Police.

Dec. 23: The hard part of stealing a vending machine is cashing in. It welcomes change, yet it’s inflexible. Plus, it’s not the easiest thing to pawn.

The call came from the owner of a vending company in Auburn. The owner said one of his soda machines had been stolen from an apartment complex in Tacoma.

The actual theft dated to Nov. 21, the owner said. He hadn’t called earlier because he assumed the machine would turn up before long. In a way, he was right; a big soda company had just called to relay a strange message.

The soda folks said a stranger from Tacoma called, saying he knew about a missing vending machine. He provided the serial number, but he wanted reward money before revealing the machine’s location. The stranger had given his name and a pair of phone numbers.

The vending machine owner told the police officer he wouldn’t pay a reward for the return of his stolen merchandise. The officer called one of the phone numbers given by the stranger.

The stranger’s wife answered. She said she was separating from her husband. She knew about the vending machine, but she didn’t want to get involved. She gave the officer her husband’s phone number.

The husband said he knew about the machine, but hadn’t seen it. He said he’d heard about it from “a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend.”

The officer asked how the husband knew the serial number of the machine if he hadn’t seen it. The husband said the distant friend told him. The husband said he figured the machine was stolen.

“I never demanded money,” he said. “I was just asking if there was a reward before I tried to find the machine from my friend.”

The officer asked for the friend’s name, or a phone number or an address. The husband said he didn’t have any of that information and stopped talking.

The officer called the man’s wife again. She said she’d moved out a week earlier, but the machine was in the carport when she left. She said her husband brought it home a month earlier, and she didn’t know where he got it.

The officer drove to an address in the 7400 block of 20th Avenue East and found the soda machine under the carport. The serial number matched the story.

The owner of the vending company said he’d send someone to pick up the machine. The officer agreed to wait. While he waited, a dispatch call came in – the husband wanted to talk.

He said he’d just spoken to his distant friend, who had dropped the machine off the night before.

The officer played it close, and didn’t reveal his location. Where was the machine?

The husband gave the address on 20th Avenue, and said he’d be right over.

The officer waited. The husband arrived. The officer cuffed him.

The husband said his mysterious friend dropped the machine off the night before. The officer set a small trap, and said neighbors said the machine had been there for several weeks.

The husband caved. He said he had no part in the theft; his friend did it all. The officer booked him into the Pierce County Jail on suspicion of possession of stolen property and extortion.

Dec. 24: The Christmas Eve shopper liked the look of the new shoes.

He put them on, stuffed his old shoes in the new box and walked out of the store.

A loss prevention officer spotted the move, caught up with the shoe-lifter, walked him back inside and called police.

A police officer drove to the store in the 7200 block of Pacific Avenue and sized up the situation.

The shoe-lifter was 24, from Bonney Lake. He was carrying a wallet with blank checks and a driver’s license in someone else’s name. He said they belonged to his friend, and he was holding them.

Who was his friend? The shoe-lifter said he’d met him a few weeks earlier, but he didn’t have a phone number for him.

The officer tracked down a Puyallup police report from October. It was a vehicle prowl, with several stolen items listed. The caller said he suspected his estranged wife.

The officer couldn’t find a good phone number for the man who’d reported the theft. Everything looked sketchy. He booked the shoe-lifter into the Fife City Jail on suspicion of third-degree theft.

Dec. 25: The gold Mercury Marquis pulled into a convenience store parking lot at 4 a.m. on Christmas Day.

The officer watched, and casually ran the plate. The computer spit out a report from Thurston County; the car was stolen.

The officer stopped the car. He found a man and a woman inside. The man was 35, with a mullet. The woman was 38.

The man said the car belonged to his girlfriend, who got it from some other guy. Last week, his girlfriend got arrested, so he was driving her car. He said he was in Tacoma to get high. He said he didn’t know the car was stolen.

The officer took him to the Pierce County Jail. The man had a folding knife in his pocket and four phony $50 bills, two with the same serial number.

The man said he got the counterfeit from someone who paid him for a painting job. He wouldn’t say more. He had a record of prior convictions in Mason, King and Pierce counties. He was booked into the jail on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486

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