Cigarettes aint cheap, and Valley Circle K convenience stores learned that the hard way when a man took nearly $80,000 worth of cancer sticks during 31 robberies over the last several months.
Smokers can inhale easy, though, because Tempe police caught the man they believe to be the cig bandit, and he is now in custody.
Arrested was 22-year-old Mathew Strickland on February 15, as he was leaving the Circle K store at 1501 Warner Road. When he was arrested, police say he had a large black bag full of cartons of cigarettes he had taken from the store.
Police believe the Valley-wide crime-spree began in October 2009 and found its way to Tempe on February 8, when police say Strickland robbed four different Tempe stores in four days.
After reports of the robberies came in, Tempe police, in collaboration with the Phoenix Police Department, set up a sting operation on other stores that they felt could be targets and, sure-as-shit, Strickland showed up at one of them.
Strickland, according to police, would go into a store, walk behind the counter, and fill up garbage bags with cartons of cigarettes.
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As far as we can tell, Strickland never used violence with any of the store clerks and didn't use a weapon, but we're waiting on the Tempe Police Department to get back to us on that.
Strickland isn't such a bad guy, though. Victims report that after Strickland robbed them, he would often apologize before leaving the store.
In a post-arrest interview with police, Strickland again apologized and said he only stole the cigarettes to sell on the streets so he could provide a better life for his family.
Strickland is charged with burglary and robbery for now, but a number of other charges are expected to be filed from other crimes committed around the Valley.