- December 4, 2008
LAKELAND, Fla. (ABP)—In the annals of petty crime, it may not be the stupidest theft ever. But it’s probably close.
Sheriff’s deputies in Lakeland, Fla., tracked down a man charged with stealing the offering from a Southern Baptist church with help from a visitor card he had filled out the previous Sunday. He had given the church his first name and his mother’s address.
And the church treasurer from whom he allegedly grabbed the money just happens to be the county sheriff’s stepmother.
Harold Williams, 28, was arrested on charges of robbery by snatching, a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, and disrupting a religious assembly, a misdemeanor.
Williams is accused of grabbing a portion of the offerings collected from about 70 worshippers at Crystal Lake Baptist Church from the church treasurer, then running away.
Ushers who had just collected the offering told a local television station they recognized the young man who followed them out of the sanctuary and grabbed the money. They recalled he had been a visitor the previous Sunday.
Initial news reports said the suspect had filled out a visitor card the Sunday before with the name Harold, along with a phone number and address that did not check out with detectives.
Updated reports after the arrest, however, said police went to the address on the card, and the woman who lived there told them she had a son named Harold. Deputies arrested Williams after spotting him walking on a street near the church.
Detectives reportedly found two checks—for $120 and $40—made out to the church and discarded offering envelopes in bushes at a nearby elementary school. It initially was estimated that the thief took about $100. Williams reportedly told deputies he took $22 and threw everything else that was with the money on the ground.
The church member holding the money when Williams allegedly grabbed it was Shirley Judd, stepmother to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. Six patrol units responded within minutes of the 911 call, followed by K-9 units and a helicopter.
A sheriff’s department spokesperson told the Lakeland Ledger it wasn’t unusual for that many units to respond, because when a suspect flees on foot there is always a possibility he is still in the area, and police respond accordingly.