Tempe police arrest man suspected in string of cigarette thefts

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TEMPE -- Tempe police arrested a 22-year-old man suspected in a crime spree targeting convenience store throughout the Valley.

According to the Tempe Police Department, the suspect would enter a store, make his way behind the counter and remove numerous cartons of cigarettes. He then placed the cigarettes into a large black plastic bag and left.

Since Oct. 29, a total of 31 incidents with the same suspect description and modus operandi (M.O.) were documented in cities across the Valley, including Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale and Tempe.

The first incident in Tempe occurred on Feb. 8. After four crimes in Tempe on four consecutive days, Tempe and Phoenix police officers and detectives set up surveillance on potential future targets.

On Feb. 15, Tempe police officers arrested Matthew Strickland as he was leaving a Circle K store at Warner Road and Priest Drive with a large black plastic bag containing numerous cartons of cigarettes.

Investigators continue to process information, but it is estimated that the total amount for all incidents is approximately $80,000.

It was reported that Strickland would often apologize to the store clerks as he removed the cigarette cartons from the display. In a post-arrest interview, Strickland was also apologetic and told investigators that he was stealing the cigarettes to sell on the street in order to provide his family with a better life.

Strickland was booked into Tempe City Jail after being arrested on charges of burglary and robbery. Numerous charges are expected from the other crimes committed throughout the Valley.