On Jan. 24, at about 4:45 a.m., thieves hit Buy Rite Liquors on Harrison Ave. in Kearny, driving a stolen Jeep Cherokee through the front doors, dragging out the store’s ATM, loading it into another Cherokee and fleeing into the night while the burglar alarm was still sounding.
From the speed and relative ease with which the crime was committed, it appeared that the culprits might have had some practice in this type of heist. In fact, police reported, a spate of similar ATM thefts had occurred in northern New Jersey in preceding months.
Last week, Essex County Prosecutor Carolyn A. Murray announced the arrest of two Newark men in connection with what authorities termed the “crash and grab spree” involving 10 such incidents — including the Kearny crime.
Taken into custody last Tuesday night, April 28, in Newark were Levell Burnett, 38, and Mark Smith, 32. Authorities said both were linked to the Buy Rite theft. Burnett was also accused of nine other ATM heists; Smith, eight others.
Both have been charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to commit burglary, theft of an ATM, and criminal mischief.
In addition to Buy Rite, other stores that were targeted from October 2014 though late January 2015 included: Dunkin’ Donuts in Bloomfield; Sudz King Laundromat in Maplewood; Wonder Bagel in Jersey City, and six businesses in Newark — Park Place News, Any Garment Cleaners, Applebee’s, Checkers Restaurant, Jersey Fried Chicken, and Newark Crown Fried Chicken.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office: “In most of the cases, the men used a pickup truck to crash into the front of the business and then took the ATM machine. The machines were taken to locations in Newark on Frelinghuysen Ave. and on Route 78.”
Announcing the arrests along with Murray were Richard Frankel, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark Division; N.J. State Police Col. Rick Fuentes, and Newark Police Director Eugene Venable. Apprehension of the suspects followed a six-month investigation by a Joint Task Force comprising the ECPO, State Police, FBI, Newark Police and Bloomfield Police.
The Kearny PD assisted in solving the Buy Rite heist, providing the ECPO “with information gleaned from our investigation, in the form of evidence gathered at the scene and surveillance tapes, not only from Buy Rite, but the surrounding area,” Chief John Dowie noted. On the night of the crime, Kearny cops had also reunited the (alas, heavily damaged) stolen Cherokee with its owner, a Harrison resident.
Fuentes commented that the suspects’ “reckless actions caused risk to the public and damaged the businesses and livelihoods of honest citizens.”
For example, in the Kearny crime, the stolen ATM reportedly contained about $2,000, but damage to the store was estimated at $30,000.
As for Burnett and Smith and the smash-grab spree, this may not be the end of the story. Murray noted, “These arrests are significant but the investigation is continuing.’’