Less than three minutes.
That’s how long a ring of burglars who have been targeting businesses across the metro area typically needed to break into a business, seize an ATM machine and flee, law enforcement authorities said Thursday.
But the thieves, who authorities say have made off with more than $500,000 from 100-plus businesses over the past year, spent far more time planning their heists, Slidell Police Chief Randy Smith said at a news conference.
He described a sophisticated operation that involved testing the alarm systems of businesses, sometimes multiple times, and watching to see how quickly police responded. The thieves targeted check-cashing operations and small businesses with ATMs inside them. And while their objective was the cash inside the machines — as much as $20,000 in some cases — they sometimes stole surveillance equipment, too.
But the scheme began unraveling early Sunday morning with the arrest of two suspects whom Slidell police caught breaking into Cash Cow, a check-cashing operation that has been a favorite victim.
Smith said the thieves would trip an alarm at a business over and over again, in the hopes that police would grow lax in responding or think the alarm had a glitch — a sort of “boy who cried wolf” theory.
But the Slidell Police Department, along with its counterparts in Gretna, Kenner and New Orleans as well as the St. Tammany and St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s offices, have been on high alert in recent months, conducting extra surveillance of likely targets, Smith said.
When a burglar alarm went off at the Cash Cow on Gause Boulevard at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, Officer Jason Seals arrived in time to see two men fleeing from the business.
The two led Slidell officers, assisted by State Police and the NOPD, on a chase that ended with the suspects barricading themselves inside a home on Morrison Road in New Orleans East. They surrendered peacefully after a 30-minute standoff.
Allden Jones, 44, and Marvin Hudson, 36, were booked on counts of burglary, aggravated flight from an officer and possession of a stolen vehicle — all stemming from the burglary in Slidell.
Police said they recovered $12,000 that was stolen from the Cash Cow as well as the stolen vehicle.
Investigators believe that others are involved in the operation, including some who worked as lookouts.
Smith said that while conducting the burglaries, the group would designate one person to watch for police while others would break in and use power tools to steal the ATMs or safes in the businesses. They would pry open a door or smash a window to get in, sometimes disabling alarms by cutting electric and phone lines to the business.
About six of the burglaries occurred in St. Tammany Parish, the first in early May.
Kenner Police Chief Michael Glaser said his agency investigated a Cash Cow burglary on Williams Boulevard on June 9 and increased its presence in that area as a result.
The suspects, who are in St. Tammany Parish Jail, have not cooperated with authorities, Slidell Police spokesman Sgt. Daniel Seuzeneau said. But authorities around the metro area have met to share information and evidence and have linked the suspects to several unsolved, high-dollar burglaries, he said.
The FBI is involved in the investigation because the crimes took place across jurisdictional lines over a large area and because of the potential that there was interstate travel by the perpetrators.
Smith said these arrests are just the beginning and other agencies are expected to file additional charges.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.