Man used 12-year-old girl as lookout and stole from cars at national park, feds say

A man has been sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to a string of car burglaries in the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Georgia, federal officials said.

Park rangers started investigating reports of car burglaries after multiple cars were broken into in August and September of last year, according to a May 1 news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The rangers saw that the burglaries followed a pattern – the passenger door locks were picked, and credit and debit cards were taken from inside the cars.

The cards would then be used for large purchases, including jewelry and Apple products, according to the release.

“Parks are places where people tend to let their guard down. Their minds enter a safe mode and they become less vigilant when they start their hike or bike ride,” Jeston Fisher, chief ranger, Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, said in the release.

Rangers said many hikers didn’t realize their car had been broken into because they would unlock their cars with a fob as they walked up to it. But, using trail cameras, rangers noticed two cars that were always around when the burglaries took place, according to the release.

On Sept. 10, rangers saw a 24-year-old man crouched between two cars, appearing to be trying to break into one of the vehicles. The man was using a 12-year-old girl as a lookout, officials said.

Officials did not release if the girl was of any relation to the man.

When rangers searched the man’s car, they found receipts for large purchases for jewelry and Apple products, as well as “burglary tools,” according to the release.

“National Parks and Recreational Areas serve as refuges for people to relax and enjoy the outdoors without fear of being targeted,” U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Buchanan said in the release.

The man, a Lawrenceville resident, was charged with felony violations of the Assimilative Crimes Act for possession of burglary tools and attempted car burglary.

He was convicted in December and sentenced on April 25, according to the release.

He was given one year and a day in prison, and ordered to pay restitution of $802, according to the release.

“At sentencing, (our client) accepted responsibility, apologized for his actions, and expressed remorse. He plans to make amends, pay his debt to society, and move forward with his life,” attorneys Michael Ross and Joseph Saul, representing the man, said in an email to McClatchy News.

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