Investigators say serial burglar victimized dozens of seniors at Sun City Center

Austin Dibkey, 28, of Tampa will have at least 40 felony charges filed against him, according to HCSO Detective Phil Merkle.
Austin Dibkey, 28, of Tampa will have at least 40 felony charges filed against him, according to HCSO Detective Phil Merkle.
Published May 10, 2016

SUN CITY CENTER — A serial burglar who has been victimizing elderly residents here is facing more than three dozen felony charges, according to Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigators.

They arrested Austin Dibkey, a 28-year-old Tampa resident last month for a single crime, but since then have added more than 30 other charges.

"When our investigation is complete,'' HCSO Detective Phil Merkle said this month, "there will be at least 40 felony charges filed against him. I'm sure there's more but we can only charge him with what we can prove." The charges include grand theft, dealing in stolen property and armed burglary.

"He's ruined a lot of lives," Merkle said. "Some of the things he sold were very meaningful to the victims, who were all seniors in Sun City Center."

Dibkey's charges include burglaries committed in Sun City Center in July and November 2015 and in January, March and April of this year.

"We will continue to review the physical evidence, DNA and property that was taken,'' said Maj. Rob Bullara, HCSO District IV commander. "The fact that he preyed on a community of elderly citizens gave us more incentive to make sure he is charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

"A lot of memories have been lost," he said.

Merkle executed the warrant for Dibkey's arrest on April 7. He was found in a hotel on S Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa.

A few of the current charges are first-degree felonies and, if convicted of all of them, Dibkey faces more than 245 years in prison, said Sun City Center Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry.

"We got a hit on two stolen pieces (class rings) he pawned in a shop in Tampa," Merry said. "Both were from recent burglaries.

"After that, investigators went through the records at other area pawn shops to see if he had been there," he continued. "From those records, we were able to piece together his involvement in other burglaries."

Dibkey is being held without bond at the Falkenburg Road Jail. The investigation is ongoing, and detectives are looking into other unsolved burglaries at this time.

Dibkey, who formerly lived in Ruskin, broke into most of the homes by prying open locked, sliding glass doors with an inexpensive tool available at most hardware stores, officials said. He took jewelry, a firearm, some coins — even a small safe, they said.

Merry said area residents can prevent thieves from breaking in using similar tools by taking a simple, inexpensive precaution.

"By installing a secondary lock — like a pin lock or burglar bar — that tool doesn't work," he said.