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Sharp local helped nab Secret Santa bandits

Jan 02,2020
The duo that allegedly stole a box with 60 million won ($52,000) in cash donated to a community center by a Secret Santa meticulously planned the crime and staked out the area for at least three days, police said.

Police in Jeonju, North Jeolla, initially couldn’t track down the suspects because they covered their license plate with wet tissue on Monday, the day of the theft. That made it impossible for police to identify the numbers on a car identified on CCTV footage.

A local resident came to the rescue by giving the plate number to the police, allowing officers to find the vehicle and bust the suspects several miles away in two different cities.

The witness, a resident of the area, said he saw the suspect’s vehicle parked outside the community center off and on since Saturday and didn’t recognize it. So he jotted down the license plate number.

Jeonju police said they were planning to give the witness a cash reward.

According to police, the suspects, aged 34 and 35, first met in high school in Nonsan, South Chungcheong. After graduation, the 35-year-old remained in Nonsan and opened a business repairing computers. The 34-year-old moved to Gongju, South Chungcheong, and was unemployed as of his arrest Monday.

Recently, the 35-year-old suspect saw a video on YouTube about Jeonju’s Secret Santa and his annual donations of tens of millions of won to the Nosong-dong Community Center, and called up the 34-year-old. He proposed stealing the cash this year, police say, so the two could open a computer repair shop of their own.

The 34-year-old was in.

Since last Saturday, the duo lurked around the Nosong-dong Community Center, driving back and forth every day from Nonsan to Jeonju.

They didn’t know precisely when or where the donor would leave the money. Neither did workers at the community center. For two decades, the secret benefactor had dropped off money at Christmastime in a box or shopping bag. But the location and time was different from year to year.

Each year, the Secret Santa would place an anonymous call to the center to offer directions to that year’s drop-off.

On Monday, the suspects departed Nonsan at around 12 a.m., and on their way to Jeonju, dropped by a public restroom to wet some tissues and stick them onto their SUV’s license plate. They arrived at the Nosong-dong Community Center at 2 a.m. and waited for eight hours till they allegedly saw the Secret Santa leaving a box in a park adjacent to the center.

Some 60 million won was inside.

They took the box and fled the scene. The 35-year-old dropped off the 34-year-old at a coffee shop in Daejeon with the box of cash, after which he drove to Gyeryong, South Chungcheong.

Police busted the SUV and the 35-year-old in Gyeryong at 2:25 p.m. The suspect admitted to the crime and told officers about his accomplice. The 34-year-old was apprehended in Daejeon at 2:40 p.m.

The two suspects have been booked on special larceny, which is punishable with up to 10 years of imprisonment.

BY KIM JUN-HEE, LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]