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Robbery suspect arrested after failed attempt

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

Thirteen truly might be the unlucky number for a man police suspect committed a dozen armed robberies, including six at McNatt's Cleaners stores in Tampa.

Tampa police, acting on evidence obtained from a thwarted robbery attempt Monday, have arrested the man they think committed the robberies and who slipped away after police stopped his 13th try at another McNatt's.

Frank Plute, 6450 W Hillsborough Ave., Lot CL5, described by police as an unemployed construction worker with a drug habit, has been charged with one robbery and the failed attempted robbery Monday of the McNatt's at 3601 S West Shore Blvd. He is in the Hillsborough County Jail on $50,000 bail.

Hillsborough sheriff's deputies also plan to charge him with the robbery March 13 of McSherry's Dry Cleaners at 11612 N Dale Mabry Highway in Carrollwood.

Plute, 35, denied robbing any stores after his arrest Tuesday morning by sheriff's deputies at his home in the White Sands Mobile Home Park. "I don't know what you're talking about," he told a reporter.

But Tampa police Detective Chris Fox said he expects Plute will face even more charges once police compare his fingerprints to those found at other robbery scenes and show his photo to witnesses.

"We're definitely looking at him as the primary suspect," Fox said.

Since the beginning of this year, six McNatt's, a video store and five other cleaners, including one in Oldsmar, have been robbed by a man described as white with brown or blond hair, in his 20s or 30s, about 5-feet-7 and weighing 150 pounds, displaying a handgun in his waistband by lifting a shirt, Fox said.

The robber eluded police on his 13th attempt Monday _ the second on the McNatt's at 3601 S West Shore. But a witness got a license plate number that police later traced to a 1984 powder blue Buick Skylark owned by Plute's mother, Fox said. Witnesses also picked Plute's picture from a lineup, he said.

The robberies have taken a heavy toll on McNatt's, a well-known chain with 15 stores in Tampa, Fox said. Employees have refused to come to work or quit, and the chain's owner, Henry McNatt, has complained to reporters about the bad publicity.

One question remains unanswered: Why was McNatt's such a popular target? Plute wasn't talking and police don't know.

"Only he knows," Fox said. "I personally think it's an easy name to remember."