CRAIG COUNTY, Okla. (WIBW) -- Authorities say he's been committing crimes in several states and on the run for months but some fast-acting Walmart employees helped stop a conman in his tracks.
Robert Helms, 46, of Pittsburg, KS has been scamming businesses for months across Kansas and Missouri as well as locations in Colorado and Oklahoma, according to authorities. Members of local, state and federal agencis have been working to track him down and he was caught Wednesday in Oklahoma.
Officials say Helms started targeting stores in different parts of Kansas in early January, paying for purchases with forged checks he printed himself and trying to cash fake payroll checks. In the beginning, he was pretending to be a law enforcement officer.
His string of crimes started on January 6, 2013 at an Alco Store in Girard, KS. He also hit other Alco locations in Pratt, Ulysses, Kingman, Louisburg, Garnett, Phillipsburg, Smith Center, Beloit and Sabetha. The company reportedly lost thousands of dollars as Helms went from store to store.
He also went to convenience stores, grocery stores and liquor stores in different cities.
In the beginning, KBI agents say Helms would go into the businesses and buy electronics and gift cards and pay with forged personal checks from nonexistent banks, complete with fictitious account and routing numbers. Even the address of the bank listed on the checks had a false address that was geographically correct to the retailer he was victimizing so as not to raise any red flags.
He also cashed phony payroll checks from the Adams County Sheriff’s Office (which doesn’t exist in Kansas) and the Meade County Sheriff’s Office (which is an actual agency in southwest Kansas).
If any questions were asked about the checks, Helms identified himself as a officer of the law, displaying a badge and a weapon on his hip and acting as a plainclothes officer or detective. His ploy made it easier for him to use the bad checks to get money, investigators said, adding that he is also eroding the trust the public has for members of law enforcement.
Helms has been using a number of false identities with the help of different driver’s licenses and he also stole the identity of Senior Special Agent Steve Bundy with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, the agent leading the search for Helms.
Helms previously called Bundy to tell him that he knew he was being pursued and that he would be staying on the run and continue committing crimes until he was caught.
Bundy says Helms started selling some of the electronics that he bought with the bad checks at pawn shops so he could get money and continue traveling and scamming businesses.
Then, he started targeting Orscheln Farm and Home stores across Kansas, buying thousands of dollars worth of industrial tools and paying for everything with fake checks in Bundy’s name. Helms allegedly bought thousands of dollars worth of equipment at Orschelns in Great Bend, Hays, Hutchinson, McPherson, Salina, Concordia, Topeka, Lawrence and Junction City. He’s also cashed personal checks at Dillons stores in Bundy’s name.
Bundy told WIBW: “I now have an enhanced compassion for victims having become one myself. It really gives you a different perspective as a law enforcement officer. Identity theft is so prolific in society and we sometimes fail to see how damaging it is until you become one yourself.” He said Helms is using his name out of spite.
In March, the KBI said they received information that Helms targeted a grocery store in Walsh, Colorado (SE Colorado, 18 miles from the Kansas border),reportedly portraying himself as a deputy from the fictitious Adams County, Kansas Sheriff’s Office and flashing a fake law enforcement officer badge which said “Adams County/Deputy Sheriff” on it.
Helms is no stranger to the system. He has previous convictions of theft, forgery, kidnapping and making worthless checks in different counties, including Sedgwick, Labette and Ford. He was released from prison last fall and the Kansas Department of Corrections lists him as an absconder. He hasn’t reported to his parole officer since October of 2012, authorities said.
On Wednesday morning, July 24, 2013, Helms was finally arrested in Vinita, Oklahoma, located in Craig County- northeast of Tulsa and about 30 miles south of the Kansas border.
Agent Bundy says he'd been working closely with local police to provide businesses in the area with the identities Helms has been using so they could keep an eye out for him and so that they would not fall prey to his tactics and so that he could be caught after he popped up on the radar there. When Helms tried using one of the identities in the Vinita Walmart, the employees recognized the fake name and called the cops, leading to his arrest.
Bundy says he'll face a long list of charges in several different states.
“Helms proved to be somewhat elusive through the constant changing of identities and vehicles and he remained very mobile throughout Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma for the past several months. His eventual capture was the result of a broad cooperative effort among many local, state and federal agencies," Agent Bundy told WIBW after Helms' arrest Wednesday.
KBI Deputy Director Kyle Smith said at least 21 counties in Kansas are investigating Helms. According Smith, Helms will be prosecuted in Oklahoma first since he was caught there and then he will face charges in Kansas and Missouri.