NBC10.com - George Spencer
Philadelphia police and the FBI have connected a string of bank and pharmacy robberies. NBC10's George Spencer tells us the crime spree might extend well beyond Philadelphia.
Police say an ATM fire exposed an elaborate scheme that targets local store and bank branch ATMS and investigators say they’ve arrested the ringleader of the so-called "blowtorch bandits."
Philadelphia Police along with North Wildwood Police arrested alleged ringleader Dennis Woods, 38, at the Aruba Motel located at 2001 Surf Avenue in North Wildwood on Friday.
Woods is being charged as a fugitive from justice from Pennsylvania and is being held in the Cape May County Correctional Center without bail.
Police say Woods has a traffic warrant out in North Wildwood and a trespassing warrant out in Deptford Township.
The latest of 10 attempted or successful thefts dating back to early May happened August 12 in South Philadelphia.
Police say Woods who also has ties to Deptford, N.J., and his gang often cut the power hours before they break-in to try and steal either cash or prescription drugs.
In many of the break-ins an acetylene torch was used to enter automated teller machines and many of the incidents occurred in close proximity to I-95 and the getaway car was a black SUV, according to Philadelphia Police.
Investigators linked Woods to a May 5 burglary of the Delaire Pharmacy at 9400 State Road in the Northeast. Investigators say in that incident Woods and another man forced their way into the business.
Woods is considered a person of interest in nine other cases the latest of which was Monday. 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 around 4 a.m. Monday 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 ATM but accidentally set it on fire. They also tried to pry open the vault but had no success and left empty handed in a black SUV.
Police say the burglars in the other cases connected to Woods had better luck.
On June 22, thieves stole $47,000 by burning through the Hyperion Bank ATM at the Piazza in Northern Liberties. On June 24 thieves made off with an undisclosed amount of cash, lottery tickets and narcotics from the Rite Aid at 7615 Linbergh Boulevard near the Philadelphia Airport. And, on Aug. 5, thieves took $50,000 worth of jewelry, electronics, drugs and cash from the KMart store at 8800 Frankford Avenue in the city's Holmesburg section.
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 at the Wells Fargo, police suspect the group would've later stolen from the PNC bank.
Other stores police say Woods may have hit include a Wells Fargo Bank on Rising Sun Avenue (Aug. 10), the Verree Pharmacy on Verree Road (Aug. 9) and the PNC Bank on Frankford Avenue (July 29).
Investigators say the group, allegedly led by Woods, has stolen tens of thousands of dollars in cash as well as prescription drugs and other items.
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.