Blowtorch bandit arrested again

February 24, 2009 8:41:41 PM PST
Philadelphia police have arrested the alleged blowtorch bandit for a second time, and this time, they have reason to think he'll stay behind bars.

If there ever was a poster child for career criminals, authorities say 24-year-old Robert Barber would be a top contender, a man who's been in and out of jail.

"That's why people aren't afraid of the criminal justice system, it's broken," said District Attorney Lynne Abraham.

He was dubbed the blowtorch bandit after police linked him to 22 burglaries of ATM machines in businesses across the city. In many cases, the bandit gained access through the roof or through an adjacent property.

"Once inside, in almost all these cases, the individual was utilizing a torch and getting into automatic teller machines," said Lt. Frank Vanore of the Philadelphia Police Department.

The ATM machines were left charred and mangled after the burglaries. All the money, of course, was gone. After a lot of work, detectives from the major crimes unit were able to link Robert Barber to eight of the burglaries.

"On the 16th of January, we took him into custody, we were still working the cases, but within one day, we found out that he was free and out on the street again," said Lt. Vanore.

Detectives were stunned to learn that Barber was set free from jail after posting 10-percent, $1-thousand of his $10-thousand bail.

"The bail was, in my judgment, absurdly low," said Abraham.

Because Barber told them he was unemployed, authorities suspect he may have used some of the money he allegedly stole from the ATMs, somewhere between a quarter-and-a-half million dollars to post bail.

"So detectives worked even harder to find even more cases cause they know this individual was responsible for this wide spread pattern," said Lt. Vanore.

Soon detectives would link him to 14 other cases including the one and the Parrish Deli at 401 N. 54th Street and the one at the 56th Street Market in the 500 block of N. 56th Street. Again police took Barber into custody Tuesday and this time his bail has been set at $3.6-million.

"If somebody post bail for him, they're gonna have to show none of this money came from criminal proceeds, none of this money came from broken-into ATM machines," Abraham explained.

The killings of a number of officers including John Pawlowski by career criminals has raised public outrage and focus on why such individuals were being let out of jail in the first place.

Although he never killed anyone, the same question was being asked about Robert Barber. Well, he's about to become the poster boy of a determined new effort to keep career criminals off the streets upon arrest & conviction.

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