on January 7, 2013 - 1:55 PM
, updated January 7, 2013 at 3:01 PM
Three Cheektowaga men have been charged in a wave of suburban burglaries since October, the Amherst Police Department announced Monday.
The men are suspected in a dozen burglaries in Amherst and two dozen more in Clarence, Cheektowaga and other towns across Erie County, mainly at small local businesses and mostly involving only money. But they could be implicated in even more crimes after investigators at various police agencies meet today to sort out and compare the information they have gathered.
“This is big for us,” said Detective Lt. Rick Walter of the Amherst Police Department, who supervised the investigation.
Amherst police have charged Kevin Zimmerman, 23; his brother, Jeffrey Zimmerman, 29; and Alfred Tatman, 26, all of Ellen Drive in Cheektowaga.
The three men used the stolen money to support their heroin addictions, police said.
“This is about heroin,” Walter said. “They were breaking into these places at night, mainly small businesses, and went for the petty cash. They used the money to fuel their heroin habits.”
In Amherst, their loot ranged from as little as $10 at one business to $3,000 at another, Walter said.
Most of the break-ins happened at closed businesses during the night, but two Amherst burglaries occurred at residences.
The men would pry open or kick in the back doors to gain entry, police said.
An important break in the case came when Amherst Police Officer Julian Chinana noticed a suspicious vehicle near a business as he was responding to another call at about 5 a.m. Chinana took note of the vehicle’s license plate, Walter said.
Shortly afterward, when the business owner discovered the business had been burglarized, Chinana had the license plate number of the suspicious car to give to investigators.
Walter said the “old-fashioned police work” resulted in the investigation expanding into neighboring towns.
Before Chinana’s observation, police had no description of any vehicle connected to the burglaries.
“With that information, we were able to run with it,” Walter said.
Amherst Detectives Robert Cunningham and Terrence Walsh developed more information based on the vehicle, compared notes with investigators from other agencies and tied the three suspects to that vehicle, Walter said.
Police called the burglary spree one of the most intense they have seen in such a short time, from mid-October through December.
“We’re talking about 37 burglaries that we know of,” Walter said.
The suspects left little evidence and usually took only money, but three handguns and two long guns also were stolen.
“Whatever they stole, including guns, was used to buy or trade for heroin,” Walter said. “It all comes back to heroin.”
Amherst police plan to meet today with investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the State Police; the Erie County Sheriff’s Office; and Cheektowaga and West Seneca police.
Charges in addition to the Amherst burglary counts could follow the meeting. Also, there may be another arrest, investigators said.
Besides the Amherst burglaries, the three are suspected in burglaries in Akron, Alden, Cheektowaga, Clarence, Newstead and West Seneca, Amherst police said.
Amherst Town Justice Geoffrey Klein, who authorized search warrants, arraigned Jeffrey Zimmerman and set bail at $25,000. Tatman is making arrangements to surrender to Amherst police this week.
Cheektowaga police previously arrested Kevin Zimmerman on an attempted-burglary charge, and he remains in their custody.