Conway detectives have extracted data off a phone seized from three out-of-state suspects believed to have information regarding a theft ring that targeted central Arkansas.
According to the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant, which was conducted last week, detectives are looking for information regarding searches for locations to buy gift cards and GPS data showing pinpoints of where the suspects had been.
The search warrant stems from a February incident were three Flint, Michigan, residents came to Conway and "were committing theft by deception at local retail stores by tricking cashiers into pressing the cash button while pretending to pay with a credit/debit card."
This technique allowed the suspects, later identified as 24-year-old Eric Tillman and 20-year-olds Madison Montgomery and Canja Drake-Garrett, "to leave the store[s] with gift cards with large amounts of money loaded on them without actually paying for the gift cards," according to court documents.
Online records show the alleged thieves stole several gift cards that collectively held a balance of more than $20,000.
According to the affidavit, the Conway Police Department was alerted on Feb. 19 that the three aforementioned suspects were at Target after making off with more than $5,500 from the Kroger on Oak Street. Authorities had an eye out for the three, who were riding in a silver sedan with a Texas license plate, because they had allegedly hit the Target in North Little Rock prior to stopping in Conway.
After leaving Target in Conway, the suspects allegedly headed west on Oak Street. One of the detectives working the case said he warned Walgreens staff to call authorities immediately should the suspects also stop by their business. Ten minutes after stopping by the Walgreens on Oak Street, officers were called back to the businesses.
The suspects had left the store by the time employees called authorities. However, Tillman, Montgomery and Drake-Garrett were located as they were attempting to pull out of the CVS Pharmacy parking lot. The responding officer followed the suspects to their next stop — Family Dollar on Oak Street — as he waited for other officers to head into the area for backup.
According to the affidavit, Tillman was already inside the store when officers arrived on scene. When he noticed the officers outside the store, he immediately attempted to flee.
"The driver of the vehicle had gone inside Family Dollar and so I was going to go in and make contact but as I approached the door, the driver exited the building," the officer wrote in his report. "He immediately had a look of fear on his face and started to flee but was blocked in by myself and another detective. He then turned around and put his hands on his back."
While questioning the female suspects, Montgomery and Drake-Garrett initially provided officers with false identities. After each suspect was properly identified, they were taken to the county jail on suspicion of theft by deception.
According to one of the detectives, the gift cards found in the suspects' pockets and purses collectively totaled a balance of more than $20,000. Detectives are looking to obtain information regarding the suspects' plans on what businesses to hit and GPS data that shows where they were at what times in regards to reported incidents at local businesses.
CPD spokesman Chris Harris said these types of cases generally aren't committed by local residents and that authorities act as quickly as possible to locate the criminals, because they often travel to Conway from other states.
"Crimes such as this are usually not committed by local residents," he told the Log Cabin Democrat on Wednesday. "With today's technology, it is too easy for law enforcement to get a suspect's picture and/or vehicle description out on the news or social media and someone in the community will usually recognize the suspect(s) if they are local. This is why our department will see theft rings will come to Conway from other cities and states, usually traveling up/down I-40."
Any businesses who believes they have been hit by this such crime or is suspicious of customers who are currently inside their store should immediately contact the police department, Harris said.
"It is imperative to stop these criminals as soon as possible," he said. "We ask our local businesses to notify our department as soon as possible if they suspect something seems strange or is not right. These theft rings will usually target multiple businesses in an area before moving on to the next city. If we get a call and receive the information quickly, we have a better chance of apprehending the criminals quicker such as in this case."
Online records show data was extracted from the phone in question on April 24.
Each of the alleged suspects in this case — Tillman, Montgomery and Drake-Garrett — have previously pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. The suspects have each posted a $100,000 bond and are scheduled to appear in Faulkner County Circuit Court on Sept. 6 for a pretrial hearing regarding the aforementioned case.