The thieves were no match for Steven Galandzi.
The 28-year-old Plymouth Walmart employee, autistic and vulnerable, was leaving work in late August when three young men accosted him demanding money.
At first, he resisted but was so scared he opened his wallet and ended up giving them everything —$150 he had saved from his weekly job buying groceries for an elderly man.
Deeply offended by the incident, Plymouth police set off a nationwide search for the trio.
With the help of town officials, police also collected donations for Galandzi — who was shocked when Police Chief Dana Flynn in September turned over more than $2,000 to him. Donors included the owners of the Cabby Shack restaurant, Bartlett Funeral Home, and B&B auto, as well as town manager Derek Brindisi and select board members Richard Quintal and Charlie Bletzer.
“I had told him, ‘I’m sorry you lost $150. I don’t think you’ll get it back,’” said his mother, Rebecca Golden, in an interview. “I said, ‘This is a hard lesson to learn.’”
“So when the community got together and said, ‘We’re taking up a collection,’ I said, ‘You don’t have to do that,’” Golden added. “They said, “We want to.’ It brought me to tears.”
Meanwhile, police discovered the men were from Memphis, Tennessee, and may have been scouring towns throughout eastern Massachusetts and possibly the country looking for victims to con out of cash.
During an investigation that spanned nearly five months, police were able to identify two of the three men.
One of them, Julius Houston Jr., 22, was arrested this week by the Shelby County Tennessee’s sheriff’s office, an event heralded by the Plymouth police.
“We wanted to catch these guys as soon as we began investigating this crime,” said Plymouth Police spokesman Jason Higgins. “We are happy that it culminated in an arrest… and we will be sending a couple of officers down there to bring Mr. Houston back so he can face a Plymouth District Court judge.”
Within days after the incident, Plymouth police, led by Detective Brian Pierce, received multiple tips.
A Plymouth Walmart shopper said she donated $3 to one of them via an app — which eventually led police to that suspect, Antonio Taylor, who hasn’t yet been arrested. The third suspect hasn’t been identified, police said.
Police also learned the young men were soliciting donations from diners at Chilis in Colony Place, shoppers at Walmart in Walpole, and at Market Basket in Hanover,
On Aug. 23, Hanover police, who said Market Basket had received multiple complaints, spoke to a teenager who told them he felt “intimidated by the young men who kept pressuring him to give more and more money.”
Hanover police were told they were selling candy bars and asking for money — possibly for Brockton High’s football team.
Market Basket’s security cameras captured clear pictures of the three suspects, police said.
Police also discovered that the three used Uber to travel around eastern Massachusetts, billing the trips to one of their ex-girlfriends.
“They were very loud and boisterous,” the Uber driver said, according to the Plymouth police report. He remembers they were selling candy (unsure for what) and that he picked them up from Stop & Shop in Abington and dropped them off at Target in Hanover.
Police also learned, the report said, that Houston was stopped at Logan Airport on Sept. 25 after attempting to pass through a checkpoint with ammunition.
Houston is charged with larceny and larceny under $250 from a disabled person. A warrant was issued for his arrest on Jan. 12. A date for his arraignment in Plymouth District Court hasn’t yet been scheduled.
The Plymouth Independent attempted to reach Houston in Memphis. His father answered a call but hung up before answering any questions. An email to Houston was not immediately returned.
Golden said her son is taking driving lessons and hopes to use the donations he received to make a down payment on a used car.
And, she said, her son, now older (29) and wiser, has learned to keep his money to himself.
“He hides his money in different places,” she said. “He doesn’t let anyone see where it is.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com.
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