CLEARWATER — It was just before 1 a.m. on May 13 when Detective Natalia Illich-Hailey spotted a man walking out of the 7-Eleven at 2030 Gulf-to-Bay Blvd., wearing a blue knit beanie with decorative orange flames and carrying a brown plastic bag.
Illich-Hailey was on the lookout for the man suspected in a string of armed robberies at gas stations and convenience stores in Clearwater. It seemed she had her man — when he was arrested, Thomas Delgado, 44, had a gun and a bag of cash, according to reports.
Clearwater police Chief Anthony Holloway said in a statement shortly thereafter that investigators had "compiled and analyzed" information from previous robberies to establish Delgado's "crime pattern."
Not mentioned were two less impressive aspects of that pattern: According to police, Delgado was committing the robberies with a BB gun and stealing piles of worthless lottery tickets, some of which he gave away to his ex-wife, who later tipped police off to his involvement.
An affidavit filed by Illich-Hailey seeking a search warrant for Delgado's apartment on Leo Lane East off Keene Road tells the story of a hapless series of crimes committed with a less-than-deadly weapon:
On Jan. 20, Delgado walked into a 7-Eleven store at 1725 Drew St. and, removing a handgun from his waistband, told the clerk to empty the cash register, police said.
On April 15 at 2 a.m., he returned to the same store. This, according to police, is when Delgado began to take an interest in items other than cash. Using a handgun again, he stole $33 from the register — and a can of Bud Light beer, police said.
On April 21, according to police, Delgado grew bolder yet: Entering a Hess gas station at 2185 Drew St., he used the gun to obtain $119 and asked for all the $20 scratch-off lottery tickets in the store, police said. The clerk gave him 34 tickets.
There was a problem. Stolen lottery tickets won't pay out. Clerks can report the book number for the tickets, at which time they are canceled, said Florida Lottery spokeswoman Shelly Safford.
"If a retailer has a break-in or a robbery, they just call," Safford said.
There was another problem. According to police, Delgado had become loose-lipped about his exploits.
His ex-wife, Karen Revels, lives in the same apartment complex as Delgado, according to the search warrant affidavit. She told Illich-Hailey that he had twice called her when drunk and invited her to his apartment in April. The first time, he told her he had "robbed the 7-Eleven with a BB gun."
The second time, according to the affidavit, he called up drunk and asked if she would like to help him scratch off lottery tickets he had "just won ... off a guy gambling." After helping him scratch, she took $120 worth of winning tickets and tried to cash them in at a grocery store. They wouldn't pay out.
Nobody answered the door at Revels' apartment Thursday. It's unclear what effect the voided lottery tickets had on her feelings toward Delgado, but on May 13, the day he was arrested, she placed a call to Clearwater police tipping them off to the three previous robberies, the affidavit stated.
Delgado is charged with four counts of armed robbery. He was being held in lieu of $200,000 bail at the Pinellas County Jail.
The gun Delgado was using, found in his car the night of his arrest, turned out to be a black BB air pistol. Clearwater Public Communications Director Joelle Castelli said the unimpressive weapon could lead to a lesser sentence if Delgado is convicted.
However, "It's still armed robbery," she said.
Peter Jamison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4157.