Prosecutors: Admitted serial cigarette thief said he targeted Speedway, Walgreens 'to support his family'
MILWAUKEE COUNTY -- A Milwaukee man prosecutors said is a serial cigarette thief, arrested after a pursuit on Nov. 15 is facing charges out of three counties.
The Nov. 15 pursuit of a forest green minivan began after a reported robbery in progress at a gas station in Grafton -- where investigators said a large quantity of cigarettes was stolen during a scuffle.
The pursuit ended on Brown Deer Road near the I-43 Park and Ride lot. Video showed a suspect, later identified as Zeuntre Robinson, casually opened the door with a bag in hand, and took off on foot. There were three other people in the van. Investigators said only one passenger was involved in the robbery. Investigators said she could face "party to a crime" charges.
A manhunt ensued -- with multiple agencies joining in the search from Milwaukee, River Hills, Bayside and Brown Deer. Robinson was caught hiding in a garage.
Robinson faces charges in five cases -- filed out of Milwaukee, Ozaukee and Racine counties in November and December. Below is a breakdown of the cases:
Racine County: Charges filed on Dec. 13
Robinson was set to make his initial appearance in court on Dec. 20.
Milwaukee County: Charges filed on Dec. 13
Robinson made his initial appearance in court, where it was ordered that he have no contact with all Walgreens and Speedway stores in Milwaukee County. Cash bond was set at $50,000. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 21.
Ozaukee County: Charges filed on Dec. 3
Online court records show an arrest warrant was issued for Robinson on Dec. 6.
Milwaukee County: Charges filed on Nov. 13
Robinson made his initial appearance in court on Nov. 18. He has pleaded not guilty. Signature bond was set at $250. He was ordered to have no contact with all Speedway stores. A status conference was set for Jan. 28.
Milwaukee County: Charges filed on Nov. 8
Robinson was in court for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 28. He pleaded not guilty and was bound over for trial. A status conference was set for Jan. 28.
A criminal complaint filed out of Milwaukee County lists the following crimes:
Prosecutors said Robinson attempted to purchase three cartons of Newport cigarettes from Speedway, and as the clerk was conducting the transaction, he "took the cartons forcibly from (the clerk's) hands. He then exited the store without paying for them. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras. The clerk positively identified the suspect as Robinson.
According to prosecutors, Robinson admitted to stealing the cigarettes -- telling investigators he gets $60 per carton for them.
Prosecutors said at Speedway, Robinson used several credit/debit cards in an attempt to purchase two cartons of Newport 100 cigarettes, but the transactions were denied. He exited the store briefly, but then returned -- pushing past a pastry cart and going behind the counter. The clerk said Robinson "pushed past him" and said "give me Newports" and "where's the other carton of cigarettes?" The clerk tried to prevent the theft, but prosecutors said Robinson grabbed the cigarettes and ran out of the store with them. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras.
The complaint said Robinson identified himself in the surveillance photos. He said this incident was the first time he was in this particular Speedway, and said "he thinks he went in there three separate times to steal cigarettes."
At Speedway, investigators spoke with a clerk who said he "recognized the suspect from a previous theft, and asked him to leave." The suspect left and returned with his left hand in his pocket, "implying he had a firearm," demanding cartons of cigarettes. The clerk said the suspect said: "I ain't (expletive) around with you," before walking behind the counter -- "grabbing as many cartons as he could carry" before fleeing the store. This incident was captured by surveillance cameras.
The complaint said Robinson identified himself in surveillance photos and "when he was told he dropped a carton of cigarettes during the incident, he responded "(expletive) $60."
Prosecutors said a Speedway clerk indicated he was working the register when the suspect "asked to purchase five cartons of Newport 100 cigarettes." The clerk said he was aware of recent cigarette thefts, so he put four cartons on the floor behind the register, and held one in his hand to scan to barcode. The clerk said the suspect had his hand in his sweatshirt pocket and told the clerk "to put them in a bag and there won't be no problems."
The clerk said the suspect walked behind the counter and shoved him with both hands. He said he shoved the suspect back, and "tried to defend himself." He said the suspect left the store and then came back -- shoving the clerk again into the cash register. He then grabbed four cartons of the Newport 100 cigarettes and exited the store without paying. Investigators said the clerk was "visibly shaken," and suffered injuries as a result of the shoving. He identified Robinson as the suspect.
The complaint said Robinson indicated this crime "did not go well for him." He said the clerk "went beast mode," and after they exchanged words he said to himself "(expletive) it. I'm going to go back there and get mine." He said they wrestled behind the counter, and he grabbed three cartons of cigarettes.
At Walgreens, a store manager told investigators the suspect entered and tried to buy some candy with a credit card that was declined. He then went behind the counter and pushed the clerk into the corner before stealing Newport cigarettes. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras.
The complaint said Robinson indicated he believed he obtained two cartons of cigarettes from this incident. He said the employee tried to get "beasty," and he saw one employee "go to the door and pull the gate down in an attempt to prohibit him from leaving the store." Investigators told him he dropped a carton of cigarettes and his prints were found on it. He said "I dropped a carton? (Expletive) -- that's $60 though." He identified himself in surveillance photos.
At Walgreens, prosecutors said an employee said a suspect walked behind the counter and disregarded her statements that he was not allowed back there. She said as he walked toward her, she pushed him back, and he pushed her before grabbing a carton and loose packs of Newport 100 cigarettes -- placing them in a shopping bag. He then left without paying. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras.
The complaint said Robinson admitted to taking the cigarettes in this case. He said "he knew what he was doing was wrong," but "he stole them to support his family." He said he would target Walgreens and Speedway stores "knowing they had a policy of no hands on the person stealing." He identified himself in surveillance photos.
Prosecutors said a suspect entered the Walgreens store and came to the register with items to check out, including flowers. As the clerk was ringing up the items, the suspect went behind the counter and "pulled out his own plastic bag and began filling it with cigarettes." Another employee said he and the suspect began to fight, and the suspect "got loose from him" and fled from the store -- grabbing the flowers on his way out. The incident was captured by surveillance cameras.
Robinson admitted to this crime, prosecutors said, telling investigators he pulled a bag out of his pocket, saying "he brings his own bags with him." He said he "started grabbing packs of cigarettes." He said when the manager approached, he "smelled fear," and "I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but he started to get rough, so I had to let him know that I can get rough too." When asked why he took the flowers, prosecutors said Robinson laughed, and said "he was thinking about his mama."
According to the criminal complaint, regarding these thefts -- Robinson told investigators "you know how some people work all week and then get paid Friday -- so I work all week and then I stash all week until Friday, and then I cash everything in," referring to the stolen cigarettes. He said he would typically sell them for $60 per carton, but said if he "busts them down" and sells them individually, he can make $150 per carton.
The criminal complaint lists multiple other incidents where Robinson was accused of stealing Newport cigarettes: