Three men arrested in suspected parking meter crime spree

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published December 6, 2012

Police arrested three men in connection with a series of parking meter thefts all over the state, including in downtown Ferndale, Royal Oak and Birmingham.

Locally, coins being stolen from parking meters has been a regular occurrence dating back to 2009 or 2010. According to Ferndale Detective Lt. Bill Wilson, meters in downtown Ferndale have been hit at least four times this year alone, and other surrounding communities have been experiencing similar problems. The three suspects — James O’Neil, 48, Terry Craig, 28, and a 63-year-old man, all from Jackson — were arrested in Ferndale Dec. 2, and O’Neil and Craig were charged in district court a few days later.

“We believe these are the same people responsible for parking meter thefts all over the state during the last few years,” Wilson said. “And it hasn’t just been happening around here — it’s been happening as far away as Traverse City, Petoskey, Mount Pleasant, Monroe, you name it. Between all the different jurisdictions, these guys have probably stolen many thousands of dollars worth of coins.”

As Wilson explained, at around 5 a.m. Dec. 2, 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 man walking in the area, as well, and noticed that the two men had traits similar to the suspects in the rash of recent parking meter thefts.

“Our officer was very diligent in his investigation,” Wilson said. “He became suspicious after he saw this guy walking his dog and saw him again a little while later without the dog. Then he saw the second guy and realized that they matched the descriptions of a couple of the suspects. He also knew some of the suspects’ names and that they were from the Jackson area, so he started putting the pieces together.”

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.

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

“This was very smart and thorough police work done by our officers,” Wilson said. “It was a whole big culmination of circumstantial evidence that led us to make these arrests.”

The people responsible for the recent parking meter thefts were known for cutting off 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 in the possession of Craig, O’Neil and the 63-year-old man. Still, Wilson acknowledged that Ferndale officers were able to recover numerous coins from the suspects that were stored in “several different places.”

On Dec. 4, O’Neil and Craig were arraigned in Ferndale 43rd District Court on charges of breaking and entering a coin-operated device, a three-year felony. Magistrate James Brennan set bond at $25,000 cash or surety for O’Neil and $10,000 cash or surety for Craig, and he also scheduled a pre-exam conference for the two suspects Dec. 6. Both men requested court-appointed attorneys.

At the pre-exam conference, guest Judge Patrick Murray bound the suspects’ cases over to Oakland County Circuit Court. Craig will appear before Circuit Court Judge Leo Bowman for arraignment at 8:30 a.m. Dec. 18. O’Neil will also be arraigned before Judge Bowman, but a date had not yet been scheduled at press time.

The 63-year-old man has not yet been arraigned, but Wilson indicated that he could be appearing in court soon. “We are still investigating his case, but he will likely face similar charges as the other two guys,” he said. “We just want to make sure that we do everything right, investigate this very carefully and don’t rush it.”

According to Wilson, the 63-year-old has an extensive criminal record dating back to 1966, while O’Neil has a criminal history that stretches back to 1983. Wilson added that Craig also has a history of criminal activity, such as larceny, burglary and breaking and entering.