Suspected ‘Sledgehammer Bandits’ Nabbed, ‘Tony Meatballs’ Pleads Guilty in Gambling Case

Philadelphia police have arrested three men suspected of being the Sledgehammer Bandits who smashed gaming machines to steal cash, according to media accounts. In an unrelated case, a Pennsylvania Mob suspect agreed to plead guilty in a federal illegal gambling investigation.

Sledgehammer Bandits
Sledgehammer Bandits
A man wielding a sledgehammer smashes a gaming machine in north Philadelphia. Police have arrested three suspects in the case. (Image: MSN/CBSPhilly)

Tyreek Holmes, 32, Russell Mason-Watts, 20, and Marcus Evans, 36, were taken into custody recently in connection with the gaming machine break-ins, according to WPVI-TV. The suspects are from Philadelphia.

The arrests happened after employees at a 7-Eleven alerted authorities that an unsuccessful attempt to break into one of the machines had taken place. A Pennsylvania State Police trooper spotted the car the suspects were in and stopped the car. He then arrested the suspects.

The so-called Sledgehammer Bandits are accused of breaking into cash-payout gaming machines at convenience stores and gas stations. Police estimate these incidents occurred at least three dozen times. Many of the smash-and-grab break-ins were in the northeast section of the city and surrounding counties.

A suspect is seen in one surveillance video knocking over a machine. He uses a three-foot sledgehammer to smash into the machine to get the cash box.

According to a news account, one suspect often served as a lookout at the front door while a second distracted customers. The third used the sledgehammer to break into the gaming machines. Police said the criminals were in and out of the stores in one minute or slightly longer.

Easy Targets

The police investigation into the break-ins is continuing, according to Philadelphia crime reporter Dave Schratwieser. Police said it is unclear whether a November arrest in a similar case is related to the recent arrests. 

Philadelphia police Lt. Dennis Rosenbaum told the television station more business owners lately have begun to install the “games of skill” machines that pay cash prizes.

”They’re actually getting pretty popular,” the lieutenant said. “Some of the stores I’ve been in you can see three or four or five people playing the games, and then you go to the cashier for a payout.”

Fred Harran, director of public safety in Bensalem, told the television station the machines are easy targets. Bensalem is just north of Philadelphia.

I’m sure the criminals, they walk into the same convenience stores as everyone else and they see people put cash into a machine and they must think, ‘Wow that’s an easy pickings,’ and they’re right,” he said.

Michael Barley, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Skill Co., said the company already has made “dramatic changes” to the machines to protect them from smash-and-grab robberies.

Guilty Plea

In a separate case in Philadelphia, reputed mobster Anthony “Tony Meatballs” Gifoli, 73, agreed to a guilty plea in a federal investigation into illegal gambling and other crimes, Schratwieser reported on the Mob Talk Sitdown website.

Gifoli is one of 15 reputed mobsters charged in November in an FBI racketeering investigation into extortion, narcotics distribution, and illegal sports betting. Gifoli agreed to plead guilty to conducting an illegal gambling operation and to aiding and abetting charges, Schratwieser reported.

Prosecutors said Gifoli’s gambling operation netted as much as $2,000 a day while the investigation was underway.

Reputed Philadelphia underboss Steven “Stevie’’ Mazzone also was arrested in the case. Others in the federal roundup include Domenic “Mr. Hopkins’’ Grande, Louis “Louie Sheep’’ Barretta, and Joseph “Joey Electric” Servidio.

With Gifoli’s plea, 13 defendants remain. Defendant Kenneth Arabia recently died, Schratwieser reported. A trial date has not been set. 

The Philadelphia Mob also was in the news recently with a guilty plea in an extortion case. The  defendant in that case, a suspected Gambino associate, has been linked to reputed Philadelphia Mob boss Joseph “Skinny Joey” Merlino.

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