Crime

Phones and social media lead to 3 arrests for Christmas Eve robbery at Sawgrass Mills

The entrance at Sawgrass Mills.
The entrance at Sawgrass Mills. El Nuevo Herald File

The Christmas Eve morning robbers at Sawgrass Mills’ Yard House restaurant had a little inside help.

That’s according to the criminal complaint filed in federal court in Fort Lauderdale Thursday against Zyheem Smith, 20; Gedeon Joseph, 21; and Watverly Mortimer, 22, the three robbery suspects arrested Tuesday morning.

Smith and Joseph, from Orlando and Clermont, respectively, were arrested by the FBI in Orlando. Mortimer, a West Park resident in Broward County, was arrested by Sunrise police, the FBI and the South Florida Violent Crime Task Force.

As described in the criminal complaint, Smith and Joseph parked their Hyundai near the back door of the restaurant around 9 a.m. Mortimer opened the back door for the twosome. Smith, described as a heavier set man with a dark-colored face mask, and Joseph, as a thin-built man wearing a skull cap and a cloth covering his face, took care to obscure their faces but didn’t do anything about the security cameras.

“The robbery was recorded by Yard House security cameras,” the complaint reads.

The complaint says cameras saw Smith and Joseph go upstairs and Smith put his Glock 19X on the manager while also grabbing the manager’s cellphone.

“Smith told the manager to empty the safe or he would shoot the manager in the leg,” the complaint reads.

The thieves got away with $22,000. When Sunrise cops talked to Mortimer on the scene, he said he didn’t know the robbers.

Then, the cellphones began talking.

Smith apparently dumped the manager’s cellphone outside the Yard House, thus avoiding tracking by cellphone — but leaving behind his fingerprints.

Investigators say they found a cellphone number for Smith and Smith called Mortimer’s cellphone three times, each call for just a few seconds. But Christmas morning, a 5:50 a.m. call lasted 17 minutes.

Also, cell tower records placed Smith’s cellphone in Orlando early the morning of the 24th, then near Mortimer’s West Park home, then near Yard House, then back to Orlando. And toll booth photos showing a Hyundai Elantra backed up that tracking. The car was rented from Unique Car Rental in Orlando.

Social media finished connecting the dots.

A Jan. 10 Facebook photo of Smith, Joseph and Mortimer with a fourth person demolished what remained of Mortimer’s claim he didn’t know Smith and Joseph.

The complaint said Mortimer used “Waffles_Clout” and “Zoe Waff” for his Instagram and Facebook accounts. A Facebook Messenger group chat on Nov. 26 included Smith, Joseph and Mortimer and Smith’s message to Joseph to “save 200 so we can get a rental to hit waffles kick in the 23rd or 24th.” (translation: hold back $200 for a rental car to rob Mortimer’s job site on Dec. 23 or 24).

On Dec. 24, the complaint says, Smith sent Mortimer a message at 8:19 a.m. “We here.” At 8:28, Mortimer responds, “The manager for the safe aaint here yet.” At 9 a.m., Smith messages Mortimer, “U gon open the door?” Mortimer replies, “Im coming out at 9:07.”

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
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