The Central Michigan University Police Department is investigating the theft of more than $30,000 in laboratory equipment from the biology department.
A nine-month investigation led to an arrest and the recovery of the majority of the equipment on Dec. 19, along with evidence of counterfeiting and social security numbers believed to be used for identity theft.
Cole Raymond McDonald, a 25-year-old Pennsylvania graduate student, is facing 11 felony charges after CMUPD and the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team arrested him on a search warrant in the 1000 block of East Bennett Street.
McDonald could receive life in prison or any term of years for counterfeiting. His other charges include a 10-year felony for breaking and entering, a 10-year felony for possession of burglar’s tools, a 10-year ($90,000) felony for concealing stolen property and seven four-year ($5,000) felonies for larceny in a building.
“This guy is involved in a lot of things,” said CMU Police Chief Bill Yeagley. “In my view, he’s a career criminal, not an opportunistic criminal.”
According to CMUPD Lt. Larry Klaus, Biology Lab Manager Thomas Schultz contacted Officer Michael Sienkiewicz in December about two missing microscopes valued at more than $4,000. Schultz declined comment.
Klaus said they believed the burglaries took place on Dec. 15 when the suspect allegedly used lock-picking equipment to get into the locked Brooks Hall.
“We’ve had a series of burglaries and larcenies here at the university that involved microscopes out of Brooks Hall, as well as a series of thefts of large cartilage printers,” Klaus said. “From previous thefts, the police department had installed surveillance cameras in and around Brooks Hall. Through the camera surveillance and Wi-Fi technology, we were able to identify the suspect, which we arrested on Dec. 19.”
When the police and the Bay Area Narcotics Enforcement Team arrested McDonald at his home in the 1000 block of East Bennett Street, they found more than the microscopes and printers. Police found evidence of copyright and counterfeiting violations, along with several social security numbers.
Reaction from Brooks Hall
Kara Schultz, a 22-year-old Charlotte graduate student and former assistant to Thomas Schultz, said eight microscopes are missing. A machine called a thermocycler, which controls temperatures to magnify DNA using the polymerase chain reaction, was also missing.
“It’s one of the most expensive pieces of equipment,” she said. “We had just got it that semester. We didn’t even get to use it before it was stolen. That was pretty crappy. We’re hoping to get it back.”
Equipment was reported missing from five rooms in Brooks Hall: 108, 119, 129, 130 and 202. Phil Hertzler, a biology professor who works in Brooks Hall, instructs a lab in room 119.
“We have to scramble around to find another microscope,” Hertzler said. “We either have to have students share a microscope or bring one in from another place. I did mention to my class to be aware of this, and I didn’t notice any reactions other than shaking heads.”
Hertzler said the faculty in the biology department received information about the missing equipment from Stephen Roberts, the biology department chairman. Roberts could not be reached for comment in time for publication.
For Schultz, she hopes the situation does not make life more difficult for students who use the equipment regularly.
“I’m hoping this doesn’t encourage others to try and do it because he got caught,” she said. “They made it easier to come in a few years ago at different times if you needed to finish an experiment. And now we have to be so much more careful about allowing students to do that.”
Possible intentions for identity theft
Police also discovered McDonald to be in possession of what appeared to be personal information from at least six students, including their Social Security numbers. Yeagley said any time that information is discovered, those people have to be immediately notified.
“We have to let the students know so they can protect themselves,” Yeagley said. “We can’t protect them from that identity theft once the bad guy has that information. Immediately, we notified those students.”
One of those students is Kayla Backus, a Chesterfield Township senior and biochemistry major who regularly takes classes in Brooks Hall. Backus said she has not yet noticed any suspicious activity related to her personal information, even though she’s still working on checking her credit score.
CMUPD told Backus they were still trying to figure out how McDonald allegedly got her Social Security number.
“I was asking (CMUPD), and they weren’t sure as well. According to them, my information is not linked to the biology department,” Backus said. “This is the second time my Social Security number has been associated with a theft. I don’t know how they still keep getting my number, but at least I didn’t get any suspicious bills in the mail yet.”
McDonald is currently lodged at the Isabella County Jail on a $90,000 bond while the investigation continues. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for McDonald at 8 a.m. on Friday in the Isabella County Trial Court.
Backus said she has never met McDonald, but she still has a strong opinion about the stress he’s put her through.
“It’s more annoying than anything to have your identity stolen,” she said. “To have to take time out of your busy life to check and see if anyone did anything with your information.”