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Ferndale

January 16, 2013

Suspected parking-meter thieves will return to court Jan. 29

One pleaded guilty, another on course for trial

By Jeremy Selweski
C & G Staff Writer

FERNDALE — The case of three men arrested for parking-meter thefts in downtown Ferndale — and suspected of similar crimes across the state, including in downtown Royal Oak and Birmingham — continues this month, as one suspect recently pleaded guilty, one will soon face a pre-trial conference and one still has not been charged.

Ferndale police believe that the suspects — Jackson residents James O’Neil, 48, Terry Craig, 28, and a 63-year-old man — are responsible for thousands of dollars in thefts from coin meters across Michigan throughout the last few years. They were arrested Dec. 2 in Ferndale after being caught in the act by an officer patrolling the downtown area.

Locally, Ferndale, Royal Oak and Birmingham have been experiencing parking-meter thefts on a regular basis since at least 2009. According to Ferndale Police Detective Lt. Bill Wilson, meters in downtown Ferndale were hit at least four times last year, alone. The three suspects have also been connected to similar crimes as far as away as Mount Pleasant, Traverse City and Petoskey, he said.

In addition, Wilson stated that the 63-year-old man has an extensive criminal record dating all the way back to 1966, while O’Neil has convictions that stretch back to 1983. He added that Craig has a history of criminal activity, such as larceny, burglary and breaking and entering.

On Dec. 18, O’Neil pleaded guilty to a felony charge of breaking and entering a coin-operated device during his arraignment before Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 29.

“This was Mr. O’Neil’s own decision to plead guilty, and I did not disagree with that decision. The evidence against him was fairly strong, and some of the statements that he made (to police) after his arrest would not have helped his case at all,” said O’Neil’s attorney, Gregory D. Mortimore.

Mortimore was confident that the sentence against his client — whom he described as “a nice man, very polite and pleasant” — would be a favorable one. Still, he noted that at O’Neil’s arraignment, he also pleaded guilty to a third habitual offense.

“I believe that Judge Bowman will appreciate the fact that Mr. O’Neil has been fully cooperative throughout this process,” he said. “The bad news for (O’Neil) is that this crime is ordinarily a three-year felony, but because he is a habitual offender, the maximum sentence doubles to six years.”

Like O’Neil, Craig was charged with breaking and entering a coin-operated device before Bowman Dec. 18. However, he opted to fight the allegation and will appear in Circuit Court again Jan. 29 for a pre-trial.

“Mr. Craig maintains his innocence,” said his attorney, Haralambos D. Mihas. “Whatever accusations were made against him are completely false, and the police do not have enough evidence to prove anything.”

According to Wilson, there have been no new developments in the case since the three men were arrested. He stated that Ferndale police are continuing to investigate, but he declined to provide any information about why the 63-year-old man has not yet been arraigned on any charges.

“The investigation is still ongoing, and the details of what is happening and why cannot be shared at this time,” Wilson said via email.

The three suspects were arrested at around 5 a.m. Dec. 2, when Ferndale Patrol Sgt. Daniel Simon observed a suspicious person, later identified as Craig, walking his dog in the area of Nine Mile Road and Woodward Avenue. He then spotted the 63-year-old walking in the area, as well, Wilson said, and noticed that the two men had traits similar to the suspects in the rash of recent parking-meter thefts.

After further investigation, Simon found reason to believe that the two men were stealing money from parking meters, Wilson said. A check of the 63-year-old’s record also showed that he had two felony arrest warrants for breaking into coin machines in Petoskey and Traverse City. The two suspects were arrested, and the investigation continued.

Ferndale police then found another man, later identified as O’Neil, who was pretending to be sleeping in a Ford Expedition parked in a nearby lot, Wilson said. Subsequent investigation led the officers to the conclusion that O’Neil was also a participant in the thefts, and he was placed under arrest.

The suspects responsible for the recent wave of crimes were known for cutting off parking meter heads in order to create molds for keys, and then using their own handmade keys to unlock other parking meters. However, Wilson declined to comment about whether any keys were found on the three suspects. Still, he acknowledged that Ferndale police were able to recover numerous coins that were found in their possession.

On Dec. 4, O’Neil and Craig were arraigned in Ferndale 43rd District Court for breaking and entering a coin-operated device. They appeared in court again on Dec. 6 for a pre-exam conference, where guest Judge Patrick Murray bound their cases over to Oakland County Circuit Court.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Jeremy Selweski at jSelweski@candgnews.com or at (586)218-5004.