The targeted vape stores have so far included one on Cattlemen and Bee Ridge roads in Sarasota, and others on 15th street, and Manatee Avenue in Bradenton.
SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. — Authorities in Sarasota and Manatee counties say they are looking for a person or a gang of people who have been robbing vape shops in the area.
They said around a dozen vape shops have been hit in the past several weeks and they are concerned more vape stores, other businesses, and as well as vulnerable targets like homes could be robbed by the same group over the holidays. The targeted vape stores have so far included one on Cattlemen and Bee Ridge roads in Sarasota, and others on 15th street, and Manatee Avenue in Bradenton.
Investigators said the culprits are armed and have been using dangerous weapons including guns.
The sheriff’s office also said they suspect the people involved are casing out similar businesses ahead of time and looking for the opportune moment to strike.
The owner of one of the stores targeted in the robberies still has not been able to repair their storefront window but had it boarded up.
In one angle of the surveillance video from the store, a man is seen shooting out the vape store window. He then goes on a grabbing spree around the shop and behind the counter.
“He jumped over the counters and had the plan to go right to the cash register.,” Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Dana Judge said. “He takes the cash registers and at one of the stores, he took a lot of a product in a duffel bag. He escapes through the back and in one store jumped over a 6-foot wall.”
In incidents that happened at vape stores on Manatee Avenue and 15th Street in Bradenton, authorities said the gang of burglars used hammers to smash the store window.
“About four or five guys wearing hoods, gloves, and masks,” Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Randy Warren said. “They walk right in and they know what they’re going to look for. They go in the same way and they go back out.”
“They’re being very bold and they’re going in and they’re taking up to several thousand dollars worth of merchandise,” Warren said.
So far, five vape shops have been targeted over several weeks between both counties. Investigators said they have several leads though, and have figured out what the burglars intend to do with the products.
“They’re not breaking into the stores because they don’t have a way to sell the stuff,” he added. “They’re not breaking into the stores and going through the risks of smashing out the windows and using firearms to shoot out windows just because they want it for themselves. So we know and we have detectives working on leads. They are reselling it somewhere in this area and we’re working leads on that now.”
Folks at businesses next to the vape shop in Sarasota are alarmed by the incident and what they saw on the surveillance video.
“Security-wise, it is concerning; especially when you see anything with a gun and at a place so close to home,” Patrick Mounce of Island Poke said.
Authorities say it is hard to predict when a break-in would occur but have urged that both businesses and homeowners not make it easy for the criminal-minded to either gain access or get away with crimes like this over the holidays.
“We have cameras, we have alarms. We have all the basic necessities and things to help us in case things happen,” Mounce said. “Keep giving and being kind, but also be mindful that not everything is sunshine and rainbows.”
Authorities want the suspects arrested quickly before the situation escalates and need the public’s assistance.
They say if you know anything about these crimes or if someone tries to sell you vape products you should call CrimeStoppers. Calls to CrimeStoppers will remain anonymous and callers can receive a reward of up to $5,000 cash for tips that lead to solving a case.
Manatee County CrimesStoppers can be reached at 1-866-634-TIPS. The number for Sarasota County CrimeStoppers is 941-366-8477.