Officials bust Budget Inn theft suspect -- in Florida
Authorities have arrested a man who vanished the day after he reported he was robbed at gunpoint while working at a Grand Forks motel. While investigating the April 1 robbery, police said, they uncovered a string of internal thefts from the Budge...
Authorities have arrested a man who vanished the day after he reported he was robbed at gunpoint while working at a Grand Forks motel.
While investigating the April 1 robbery, police said, they uncovered a string of internal thefts from the Budget Inn Express -- committed in the months before and totaling more than $10,000 -- that were traced to Ricky Edwin Stephens.
Stephens, 29, made his initial appearance on a felony theft charge Friday in state District Court in Grand Forks. Stephens was picked up in Pasco County, Fla. -- about 30 miles north of Tampa -- and police here were informed sometime last week of his arrest, said Lt. Rahn Farder of the Grand Forks Police Department.
Through investigation, Farder said, detectives had learned that Stephens was in Florida. "We were, at one point, actually able to contact him in Florida," he said.
Farder did not know the circumstances of Stephens' arrest.
Stephens' bail is set at $5,000, and his preliminary hearing is set for July 19. As of Friday evening, he was being held at the Grand Forks County jail. A message left for him there was not returned Friday.
On April 1, Stephens reported to police that he'd been robbed at gunpoint by a masked man while working at the motel at 3400 Gateway Drive. Stephens told police the robber took cash and fled out a back door. No one else witnessed the robbery, police said.
A surveillance camera captured a man in a black ski mask pointing a black handgun at Stephens, who was standing by an open drawer behind the motel's counter.
Police said less than $100 in cash was taken from the till, but that the robber also left with a blue bank deposit bag that contained money. Farder would not disclose the total amount of money stolen during the robbery.
Stephens first told police he would cooperate in the robbery investigation but became unreachable after a couple days; he had moved out of his residence at the motel and disconnected his phone, according to an investigator's report filed in District Court.
As for the internal thefts, Stephens is accused of giving some motel customers handwritten receipts, not entering the transactions in the motel's computer system and pocketing the cash, according to the investigator's report.
Police figure at least $10,387 was stolen, but the report says it's not known exactly how much more money was collected from customers and not recorded in the computer system.
Farder said police are looking into whether the robbery and embezzlement are related. He said police cannot say for sure that the robbery was staged.
"We cannot state for a fact either way, but we're certainly looking into that," he said.
Stephen Lindblom, a Budget Inn manager, has said he isn't convinced the robbery was real and that the timing of events is suspicious. The motel's owners called for a cab that afternoon to take Stephens to the bank to deposit money, and soon afterward, Stephens reported the robbery, Lindblom said. He said Stephens had worked at the motel for close to a year.
Farder said police have not been able to identify the masked robber, who remains at large. He was described as a white man who stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds. He was wearing work gloves, jeans and a long-sleeve, maroon, button-down shirt with a collar.
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