3 Texas men caught stealing dollar bills from hurricane-hit bar
It appeared the men were loading hurricane debris into bags until a deputy spotted the single dollar bills that once hung inside the restaurant
By Howard Cohen
LEE COUNTY, Fla. — Picking through discarded trash set out for pickup may be distasteful, but it’s often not a crime. But venturing onto someone’s property without permission and going through whatever’s there?
Not so fast.
Three Texas men found out that cops in Lee County “have zero tolerance for looting or criminal activity of any kind,” Sheriff Carmine Marceno said in a Facebook post Wednesday after the three men were arrested and charged with larceny grand theft and identity fraud.
A deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was assisting with Hurricane Ian relief efforts on Tuesday, officials said, when he saw three men walking around the damaged Liki Tiki BBQ on Estero Boulevard in Fort Myers Beach. There were two trucks nearby, a white Silverado and a white Ram.
The men were loading debris and scrap metal onto the bed of the Silverado, detectives said. But some of that debris from the Ian-battered Liki Tiki BBQ looked like something most people wouldn’t toss.
The Hillsborough deputy saw that the plastic bag on the Ram’s front seat “had a large amount of single dollar bills that were once hung inside the restaurant.” There were also dollar bills in the dirt nearby.
And that’s when Lee County deputies were tipped something was amiss.
Lee detectives called the Liki Tiki BBQ’s owner who, they say, told him that the dollar bills were tacked up on the walls and roof of Liki Tiki. The bills were scrawled with messages from customers.
That bar culture decor, with money everywhere, can be found at similar casual dining spots. No Name Pub in Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys has dollar bills with customers’ names and best wishes hanging from the ceiling and walls.
The Liki Tiki BBQ owner told deputies that the three men did not have permission to be on the property or to remove anything from the site, including debris.
Christopher Wayne Thompson, 43, Joseph Aloyesious Burton, 31, and Alexander Scott Thompson, 26, were arrested and charged with grand theft and fraud. Six IDs and driver’s licenses found in one of the trucks did not belong to any of the suspects, deputies said.
According to the arrest report, detectives found $1,017 in legal tender, primarily dollar bills, that were consistent with the owner’s description of the money he had hanging in his restaurant.
Detectives interviewed a neighbor who told them he had seen the three men since he had returned to Fort Myers Beach on Saturday. Detectives say he told them he believed the men were being paid by the residents on the street to assist with hurricane cleanup, according to the arrest report. The witness said he saw the three men picking up scrap metal from the street, but believed that all of the property was trash.
According to the report, Burton said he had been collecting scrap metal, piling it onto the Liki Tiki BBQ property over the last nine days, and that he and the other two men were collecting the material when they were detained.
Detectives said that Burton told them he was removing the dollar bills from the pieces of the Liki Tiki BBQ that landed on neighboring property and was placing them into the plastic bag that was seen on the passenger seat of the Ram truck. Burton estimated he picked up about $800 to $1,000 in dollar bills, the report said.
Burton also said the owner of the residence had spoken with the owner of Liki Tiki BBQ over the phone and got permission to collect the dollar bills to be returned to him, the arrest report said.
Detectives said Burton also told them he planned on returning the property to the Liki Tiki BBQ, but had not done so over the last nine days he had collected the property. He also said he found the ID cards in the rubble, which he collected and planned on returning to the business, the arrest report said.
Detectives said that Alexander Thompson also told them in the interview he had been collecting scrap metal and dollar bills from the Liki Tiki BBQ property for the last two weeks. Detectives said in their report that Thompson told them he had planned on taking the money to Fort Myers Beach Town Hall but didn’t want to turn it in until they had cleaned the entire area.
Detectives say he told them he had collected about $150 to $200 and kept the bills “neatly stacked in the glove box of the Ram.” But detectives said that all of the cash in the Ram was was inside the plastic bag on the front seat and not seen in the glove box.
Wayne Thompson and Alexander Scott Thompson remain in jail, held on $50,000 bond for the larceny charge and $5,000 on the fraud charge. Burton was released on Wednesday after paying bond.