Serious Withdrawal

Late-night robberies. High-tech heists. Coercions, confessions and cover-ups. It's just business as usual at a Phoenix ATM company.

Police departments across the Valley, as well as the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department and the FBI, scurried around trying to find the burglar. But getting evidence to catch the thief was torturous.

"You usually don't have a witness with these, so we have to go on fingerprints," says Detective John Barto, who was unable to solve a 12-minute heist of $50,000 in 1998 from a Bank of America ATM at El Pedregal Mall in Scottsdale. But fingerprints are usually useless in ATM thefts, he says, because the crimes are often committed by employees, whose prints you'd expect to find in the machines.

"You almost have to catch them with a bunch of money," says Barto.

The third degree: After $5,000 had been reported missing from an ATM, interrogators at Elyte grilled Freddie Apodaca in the scene shown here and again later until he confessed. Three days later, they discovered that the loss was the result of a paperwork error.
The third degree: After $5,000 had been reported missing from an ATM, interrogators at Elyte grilled Freddie Apodaca in the scene shown here and again later until he confessed. Three days later, they discovered that the loss was the result of a paperwork error.

Then police had their lucky break. On January 29, 1998, Mitch Golab, an Elyte technician, tripped a silent alarm inside a Bank of America ATM in Chandler. Officers rushed to the scene, finding wet spray paint on all the surveillance cameras, a ladder and a hole cut in the roof to the crawl space above the bank. An ATM was left open, its hinges burned off.

They also found Golab himself nearby, hiding behind a Mervyn's department store sign, dressed in black and holding a duffel bag stuffed with a cutting torch, gloves, a two-way radio, a gun, and keys that fit the ATM machines. As police pounced on Golab, a voice came over his two-way radio, asking if he got away. His roommate and co-worker at Elyte, Nathaniel Harrison, was waiting for him with the getaway vehicle.

The bust gave the FBI the proof they needed to link Golab and Harrison to six other ATM burglaries in Phoenix, Sun Lakes, Mesa and Tempe. FBI agents discovered that Golab was accessing a storage locker on 27th Avenue after each incident. Money taken from the seven burglaries totaled $218,000.

The cases went to U.S. District Court, where Golab and Harrison pleaded guilty. The FBI, it appeared, got their men.

But the robberies continued. Only now they were violent.

On October 31, 1998, Ruth Beltz and Steve Cook responded to a malfunction at the ATM inside Bank of America in Carefree. After inspecting the machine and returning to their truck, they discovered it had a flat tire. As Cook crouched on the ground to change the tire, two people wearing Halloween masks emerged from a vacant lot and announced that this was a robbery. Thinking it was a Halloween prank, Beltz replied, "Yeah, right." Then she heard the man with a wolf mask say, "This is no joke, bitch."

The suspects duct-taped the arms, legs and eyes of the two technicians, dragged them behind some shrubs in the vacant lot, and demanded the keys and codes to get into the ATM, according to Elyte's report on the incident. The masked gunmen ran away with $42,460.

A second assailant wearing a white skeleton mask struck Melvin's arm with a sledgehammer and demanded his weapon. Both suspects had their guns trained on his head; Melvin squinted, expecting to be shot. But when he opened his eyes, Melvin caught a glimpse of the suspects dragging the black bag of cash across the parking lot and jumping over a wall. Elyte officials believed these suspects might also have been employees, since they apparently knew the technicians' route. The bag held $338,000, but the cash and the gunmen were never found.

By now, things at Elyte were getting desperate.

Sitting in the claustrophobic corner of a white room, a camera glaring in his face, Freddie Apodaca tries unsuccessfully to keep his fidgeting fingers and jittery eyes in check. He's in the hot seat now, one of many ATM technicians to undergo videotaped interrogations by Elyte.

He's being grilled by Mike Snyder, one of at least two former law enforcement detectives brought onto Elyte's payroll to stop the thievery. And like other Elyte investigators, Snyder is ruthless, routinely pounding Apodaca with take-no-prisoners-style questioning.

Apodaca is being questioned because he is one of several technicians whose route included a machine at 44th Street and Thomas, where $5,000 was reported missing. He denies taking any money, but he can't sit still, coughing, scratching his head and blinking under Snyder's gaze.

"There is things about your body language that's got me kind of concerned that you're not telling me the whole truth about things," Snyder says on the videotape. "I want you to understand that I'm not buying all this, what you're telling me. . . . If you've got anything you want to get off your chest, this is the time to do it."

Looking down, his face sullen, Apodaca quietly says he palmed a few torn-up $20 bills from an ATM in Terminal Four at Sky Harbor Airport and one other machine. "Okay, I guess maybe I did," he mumbles. "I just grabbed it. I didn't count it." Still, he denied taking the missing cash Snyder was looking for at 44th and Thomas.

The next day, two other members of the security team went after Apodaca again, telling him to meet them at the Circle K at Seventh Street and Bethany Home Road with the cash he stole, including the large amount from 44th and Thomas that they say he later confessed on the telephone to taking.

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Elyte ATM and security has commited crimes and covered up evidence. There is obviously a serious history to theft in the organization. They should lose their state licenses and be shut down. Elyte Services LLC has started a security company in Albuquerque New Mexico where they have already been sued twice this year. Enough is enough. These crooks need to go to jail.

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