A group of Chicago-area thieves set Milan Road in their cross hairs late Friday morning — they lifted a stack of cash from a local woman's purse and were found in a vehicle equipped with a portable fake ID machine, police said.
Police were tipped off to the group, comprised of two men and two women, at about 11 a.m. Friday, after a Meijer customer — the wife of the Ohio Veteran's Home police chief— noticed cash missing from her purse, Perkins police Chief Ken Klamar said.
The two men had managed to stand close to the woman's cart, and appeared as if they were browsing the shelf selection. But in reality, one of the men used a shirt to obscure his hand, all the while rooting through the woman's purse for something of value, Klamar said.
Investigators used surveillance footage and witness descriptions, and began scouring the Milan Road shopping corridor for the group.
Despite the group's nearly hour-long head-start, Officer Bill Henderly soon spotted the two men leaving in a van, just outside the Macy's entrance at the Sandusky Mall, Klamar said.
When police later searched the Chrysler Town & Country, they found an unusually sophisticated thieving scheme. The group had used Bluetooth communication to look out for one another inside the store and one would distract the victim as the other made his getaway.
But the group went one step further. Outfitted in their van was a fake identification machine, where they could print new, phony licenses as needed.
Klamar said the group could have hypothetically snatched a credit card, printed an ID with a matching name, and have been able to rack up thousands in charges before anyone realized what happened.
It's unclear whether the group made off with any other valuables on Friday — the one identified victim said she saw the two men hovering around another customer earlier in her shopping trip, Klamar said.
When officers did cuff the group, they struggled with identifying each suspect's name. All have been arrested, but police are not yet certain about their identities, Klamar said.
They were each charged with felony criminal tools possession and misdemeanor theft and taken to the Erie County jail.
Klamar warned shoppers not to leave purses or valuables unattended in carts.
“These guys are good at what they do. Purses need to stay on the body — she didn't even know what happened until they were long gone,” he said.
Police tentatively identified the group as:
•Keith Freeman, 46, Calumet, Illinois
•Kelvin Paul, 46, Chicago
•Karen Pierce, 48, Chicago
•Sheri Donaby, 45, Chicago