Masked men steal lobby ATMs from 5 Houston hotels

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HOUSTON (AP) — Houston police believe the same group of masked men is responsible in the thefts of ATMs from the lobbies of five hotels over the past six days, including four in the last four nights.

Police Robbery Division Lt. Cathy Richards said Thursday that in all five heists — the last three at Marriott hotels — the cash machines were not secured to a floor or wall and the gang simply carried them to a vehicle waiting outside.

"These guys go straight in the front door and out the front door," she said. "They target these hotels in the middle of the night when there is low visibility. Five of them in a few short days."

Witnesses say between four and 10 men took part in the heists. They barge in and flee in less than three minutes.

The series of thefts began Dec. 9 at a hotel near Bush Intercontinental Airport on the city's far north side. Two nights later, on Monday, a hotel miles away on the southwest side was hit. Then the three Marriott hotels, one in Houston's Galleria area, another on the west side and the third again near the airport, were robbed Tuesday, Wednesday and early Thursday.

Although no one has been hurt, in one heist a man warned hotel employees: "Don't do anything and you'll get home tonight."

In the most recent theft, about 1:15 a.m. Thursday, one of the men displayed a machete "which was basically saying, do not do anything at all," Richards said.

The hotels don't own the machines and authorities are working with the ATM companies to determine how much cash they may have contained. She said the thieves likely don't know how much is inside. "These guys are just betting on there being something in there," Richards said.

Richards said police have increased overnight patrols outside hotels and asked members of the public to reach out if they spot a vehicle carrying an ATM.

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