Police say an ATM fire exposed an elaborate scheme that targets local pharmacies and bank branch ATMS and investigators believe they know the identity of the ringleader.
The latest of 10 attempted bank and pharmacy thefts dating back to early May happened early Monday in South Philadelphia. Investigators say that alleged ringleader Dennis Woods, 37, of Deptford, N.J. and his gang often cut the power hours before they break-in to try and steal either cash or prescription drugs.
Philadelphia Police detectives told NBC10 that burglars broke into the back door of the Wells Fargo location at S 3rd Street and Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia Monday around 5 a.m. and cut some wiring to try and disable the alarm.
SkyForce10 hovered overhead as firefighters worked on the roof. Investigators said that a passerby spotted the ATM fire in the front of the bank and alerted police, according to Police Lt. Scott Drissel.
Investigators say the suspects tried to use blow torches to open the ATMs but accidentally set them on fire. It was also unclear if anything was taken from the bank.
"With the chemical inside the building it was a safety risk for the officers there without gas masks," said Drissel.
While waiting, officers didn't know if any burglars remained in the building.
"There was nobody inside," Drissel said.
Monday afternoon, police announced that they connected the fire and burglary to 10 other bank and pharmacy robberies across the city beginning on May 5 when thieves struck a Northeast Philadelphia pharmacy. Police also say the blowtorch bandits likely cut the wires at a PNC bank location along Packer Avenue near S 16th Street around 11:30 p.m. Sunday night. The PNC is about 1.5 miles from the Wells Fargo location. If it hadn't been for the fire, police suspect the group would've later stolen from the PNC bank.
Investigators say the group, allegedly led by Woods, have stolen tens of thousands of dollars in cash as well as prescription drugs. In all of their burglaries, police say the group cut the power hours before breaking in and stealing the cash from the ATMs.
Now police are investigating whether the group is operating beyond Philly.
"We're also reaching out to the tri-state area," said Police Lt. John Walker. "We believe this crew may be operating along the 95 corridor."
If you have any information on the thefts, please contact Philadelphia Police.