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The hard life of a drug store robber in the age of cellphones

Michael Iman White traveled the Midwest, roaming as far away as Kansas to practice his art.

Michael Iman White traveled the Midwest, roaming as far away as Kansas to practice his art. Madison County Sheriff

Michael Iman White was a budding figure in the time-honored craft of drug store robberies. Though he was a mere 19, the young artisan defied his generation's reputation for slacking.

From his headquarters in Muncie, Indiana, he traveled the Midwest, roaming as far away as Kansas to practice his art, according to the FBI. And he found a particularly sweet spot in the Twin Cities.

His first robbery in St. Paul last year came with a bit of jitters. He tried to take down a Walgreens on Randolph Avenue, but ended up fleeing empty-handed. Yet he would not be discouraged. That same day, he would prove himself an emerging talent, hauling in $18,000 in pharmaceuticals from a Walgreens on Larpenteur Avenue.

White apparently took two months off to luxuriate in his winnings, then returned to the Randolph Avenue store. Yet he and his henchman were foiled again, this time when someone hit an alarm. Defeat, however, would only refine his skills.

The following day, the three men waited for customers to leave before setting upon a Walgreens at 6975 York Ave. S. in Edina. They zip-tied two employees, then ordered the pharmacist to clean out cabinets and a safe. Their $51,000 takeaway in drugs would prove that crime does indeed pay, though sometimes fleetingly.

White still had much to learn about the disposing of evidence. That same day, a Bloomington resident called to say someone had left a pillowcase filled with empty pill bottles in his backyard. A maintenance worker in Bloomington also found a pillowcase stuffed with clothing, gloves, pellet guns,and zip ties in a dumpster.

To the more experienced practitioner, these were the mistakes of amateurs. But White was already on his way back to Indiana.

The problem, of course, was that the same kinds of robberies at the same stores conducted by the same people tend to attract attention, especially when there's security footage of the capers. The FBI, plus detectives from St. Paul, Edina, and Bloomington, all joined the hunt.

In the end, White would be done in by that bane of young people everywhere: his cellphone.

Detectives crunched cell tower data for the phone numbers used in the areas of all four robberies. A single number emerged: White's. Then they matched his driver's license photo to security tapes and witness descriptions. Four months after his Edina triumph, he was nabbed by police.

There wasn't much point in wasting time and money on a trial. White pleaded guilty in May. Last week, he was sentenced in federal court to 10 years in prison.

This is perhaps best for our promising young craftsman. He will now have time to reflect on the need to diversify his targets, improve on his evidence disposal skills, and ruminate on the hard truth that comes to every young man's life: It is sometimes wise to put away your phone.