Forget about dark alleys. Craigslist is becoming a popular place for criminals to lurk, so South Florida police agencies are opening their doors to online buyers and sellers looking to close a danger-free deal.
There have been at least five cases in South Florida since June 4 in which people selling cellphones or computers through Craigslist have been targeted by robbers when they met to exchange goods for cash.
The Broward Sheriff's Office announced Tuesday that its Weston substation, 17300 Royal Palm Blvd., would serve as a safe haven for anyone seeking to complete such a transaction. All other sheriff's sub-stations now offer it. The move comes in response to robberies in Weston and Sunrise.
Boca Raton police announced the same safe haven plan two weeks ago after three armed robberies in three weeks that began as cellphone and computer sales via Craigslist.
Delray Beach and Boynton Beach police joined in last week. Sunrise, Fort Lauderdale and other police agencies say they have no formal program, but that the public is welcome to complete transactions at police stations during regular business hours if it makes them feel safer.
"It's just a common-sense tactic and approach," said Broward Sheriff's Detective Scott Nida. "You have to exercise common sense because you're meeting someone you don't know for the first time."
On May 24, an iPhone 5 was stolen from a Weston man who had advertised the cellphone on Craigslist.
Abayomi Abimbola, 21, of Sunrise, met the man in a public place, grabbed the cellphone, jumped into a car and sped away, according to the arrest report.
The man was able to describe the car and give the tag number to sheriff's detectives, who tracked down Abimbola on Friday and charged him with grand theft, the report stated.
A similar cellphone deal turned violent in Sunrise around 9 p.m. Sunday.
According to police, Neil Heckart, 29, of Sunrise, and Clarissa Menken, 26, of North Lauderdale, met a couple in a parking lot at Sawgrass Mills to buy an iPhone 5 for $500.
Heckart and Menken drove off with the cellphone and the victim hanging halfway out the passenger-side window of the car, police said.
The victim was slashed with a knife on his right hand and right leg during the struggle while Heckart yelled, "I'm going to kill you," according to the arrest report.
The wounded seller escaped when Heckart hit a palm tree and sped away. Officers later arrested Heckart and Menken inside a police perimeter around the Flamingo Bay community, the report stated.
Menken was found with a list of four people from whom she planned to buy iPhones that day, even though she admitted to having no money, police said.
Bond was set at $155,000 for Heckart and $150,000 for Menken for an armed robbery charge. But both were being held without bond on a charge of kidnapping and inflicting bodily injury, jail records show.
Johnny Balderrama, 43, of Sunrise, thinks the idea is "perfect" because he's been the victim of a Craigslist-related robbery.
"There will be less crime and less headaches for police," he said. "Everybody is safe that way."
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