ATM bandits go unprosecuted

Escaping justice Knox County style

by Mike Kroll

You can be forgiven if the name Timothy Lucas doesn't ring a bell but if you have lived in this area for at least four or five years you certainly recall the epidemic of ATM burglaries that afflicted western Illinois only a few years ago. What you probably do not know is that local police solved those crimes, identified the ATM bandits and they are even in custody yet absolutely no charges were ever filed by the Knox County State's Attorney's office before John Pepmeyer took over in January. Had Paul Mangieri not won his appointment to a circuit judgeship it seems probable that the three year statute of limitations could have easily expired on all those crimes without any charges being filed. As it is, only four of the many Knox County cases remain viable today.

During 2003 and into 2004 there were dozens of burglaries involving the physical theft of ATM machines across western Illinois — including Knox County. Hundreds of man-hours of police work were expended investigating these thefts with the Knox County Sheriff's office very much involved. Sheriff Jim Thompson, detective Keith Rickard and others joined with other area law enforcement officials to track down the gang responsible for these brazen thefts.

Following months of investigation, police identified three key suspects: two Abingdon men,  Lucas and Paul Miller and Mary Saline of Galesburg. Officials subsequently arrested Miller who pleaded guilty in August of 2005 to Henry County charges. The trio allegedly was responsible for more than three dozen ATM thefts in eight counties but the only charges filed against Miller were by Henry County State's Attorney Tim Patton. Meanwhile Lucas and Saline escaped the area and were arrested on other charges in Utah where Lucas actively fought against extradition.

After John Pepmeyer began serving as Knox County State's Attorney, one of the first tasks he took on was digging through piles of notes, correspondence and other material that had accumulated in that office under his predecessor. "The office paperwork was a total shambles," said Pepmeyer. "I really don't understand how this office could have functioned in the state it was in when I arrived. Early on I discovered an unopened letter addressed to Paul Mangieri from Tim Patton telling me that Lucas was finally about to be extradited from Utah and asking if our office would split the $3,000 cost to return him for trial in Knox and Henry counties. I was not familiar with the cases involved and asked my staff to bring me the files on Lucas and the ATM burglaries only to discovered that no such files existed in the Knox County State's Attorney's office."

The ATM thieves would typically steal a pickup truck and drive to a closed convenience store or other location of an ATM in the middle of the night. They would use the truck to force open the doors and then put a chain around the ATM machine inside. Using the truck and chain the thieves would literally yank the ATM machine out of the floor or wall that it was attached to and throw it into the bed of the pickup truck. In the process of forcing open the doors and removing the ATM machine they typically did thousands of dollars of damage to the building and contents of the victims.

These thefts most typically occurred in rural area but the thieves were brazen enough to pull off at least three such burglaries right in Galesburg; two at the Mobil on Fremont and Seminary Streets a month apart and another at the Mobil convenience store on E. Main St. They also hit the bar Cactus Country, just west of Galesburg. All of these thefts took place in the summer of 2004 near the end of the trio's area crime spree but at least ten other ATM thefts took place in Knox County alone prior to that summer.

The police task force that investigated these thefts tracked down suspects and used both live and electronic means of surveillance to monitor their movements hoping to catch them in the act of pulling off one of these burglaries. Thompson and Rickard had accumulated a huge amount of evidence against them and were proud of the police work involved. They too were surprised when Pepmeyer called to say that he could find no paperwork whatsoever in the State's Attorney's office regarding the ATM bandits other that an expense voucher for Mangieri's attendance of a task force meeting out of town. Rickard subsequently brought two overflowing bankers boxes of investigation material to Pepmeyer.

As Pepmeyer began examining the details of the evidence it quickly became clear that due to inaction and inattentiveness by the Knox County State's Attorney's office the three year statute of limitations on all but five of the burglaries had already run out. Had Pepmeyer not found the letter from Patton buried amidst disorganized paperwork it is quite possible that despite a successful investigation by local law enforcement Tim Lucas and the others would have escaped any accountability for the Knox County thefts.

In mid February Pepmeyer filed charges on four counts of burglary and one count of auto theft against Lucas. He expects Lucas to soon be extradited back to Illinois where he will first face trial in Henry County before Pepmeyer gets a crack at him. "These ATM bandits are just one example of how sloppily this office has been run. After more searching all that I could find was a partial Grand Jury transcript, not as single Knox County case had been filed or even started on these ATM burglaries. It was especially frustrating to discovered that the statute of limitations had expired only days earlier on another ATM theft."


Published 5 April 2007