Three Charged with Staging Armed Robbery at Convenience Store including Night Manager

July 10, 2007
Dwayne Page

In less than 16 hours after a reported Sunday night Armed Robbery in progress at the BP Gas station on Highway 70, Smithville Police Detectives have arrested three individuals for the crime, including the night manager of the store.

Chief Tom Stufano says 20 year old Michael Dirden, Jr. of 437 West Main Street, Smithville has been charged with setting up the robbery and filing a false police report. He was taken to the DeKalb County Jail. His bond is $10,000.

Others charged include a 17 year old juvenile and the gunman, 18 year old James Wilber of 107 West Bryant Street, Smithville.

Chief Stufano says the incident began at 8:30 p.m Sunday night when Dirden, the night manager of the convenience mart, telephoned 911 to advise that a man brandishing a gun forced him to reopen the store as he was locking up. Video surveillance showed that a person dressed in camouflage, wearing a bandana and sunglasses and carrying a black pistol forced the manager into the store, stole the money bags and then hit the manager in the face as he exited the parking lot on foot. Dirden was taken to DeKalb Community Hospital where he was treated and released.

However, Chief Stufano says investigators, after reviewing video footage and crime scene evidence, found inconsistencies in the story. After numerous interviews, Investigators began to suspect possible employee involvement. Police were able to establish that Dirden had been involved with setting up the robbery and had been planning the incident for three months. Dirden had solicited the help of friends and gave them detailed information as to where the surveillance cameras were setup, how to approach and exit the store, staging how the robber would hit him in the face in front of the camera, and the exact script to be used in filing the police report.

According to Chief Stufano, the 17 year old juvenile picked up the gunman, Wilber, a block away from the store. Wilber was identified as the person who entered the store and allegedly pistol whipped and robbed Dirden, which led to a two and a half hour manhunt by local police. It was discovered that Wilber had used a realistic looking CO2 powered pellet pistol during the incident. The investigation revealed that Dirden, Wilbur, and the juvenile met back up together after Dirden returned from his hospital visit and then split up the cash proceeds. Approximately half of the money was spent in a matter of hours after the robbery.

Investigators found hundreds of dollars of stereo equipment in Dirden's car, and identified debt payoffs the three had made. Additionally, the juvenile had made an early morning bank deposit into his personal account. Detectives were able to retrieve the remainder of the cash and the gun from various locations in the city. The bandana Wilber had used was found in the woods next to the BP station. The remaining camouflage clothes, checks and credit card receipts were burned in a fire pit to conceal their evidence value. Wilber was arrested and charged with the crime with bail set at $10,000. The juvenile was released to the custody of his father and will be charged in a Juvenile Court petition.

Chief Stunfao says \"Although the case was lengthy and complex, Smithville Detectives and residents offering information were credited with a speedy resolution of the case. The partnership with the community in detecting illegal activity continues to show that violent crime will not be tolerated by this community. Police are also crediting the merchants in their active participation and security setups.\"

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