Douglas Charles Hastings has never received a “key to the city” from Traverse City leaders, but he did get his hands on a key that’s arguably much more valuable.
Hastings managed to get a copy of a key that unlocks any of the city’s parking meters, sturdy steel containers that can be laden with change. A single meter can hold up to $300; a double, up to $600.
Between April and July 19, TC officials estimate Hastings cost the city $41,000 in coins, according to police reports.
Hastings, a 63-year-old from Jackson with a long history of relatively minor felony offenses, was sentenced Jan. 9 to one year in jail after accepting a plea deal that knocked the charge against him down from a felony to a misdemeanor.
He was originally charged with breaking and entering of a coin-operated device, a three-year felony, and being a four-time habitual offender. He pleaded guilty Dec. 20 to attempted breaking of a coin op device.
At his sentencing hearing, Judge Thomas Phillips gave Hastings the maximum penalty he could, saying he thought Hastings got a good deal when he was allowed to plead to a misdemeanor.
Phillips said another hearing would have to be held to determine restitution, as an official amount had not been determined.
The case started in May when Traverse City’s parking services manager noticed the haul from the city’s parking meters had been light in spots. He alerted police.
Dave Malewitz told a detective with the Traverse City Police Department that he estimated revenue was down around $698.
This wasn’t the first time Malewitz had talked with a detective about parking meters. Earlier in the year, two city parking meters had been cut off their posts and stolen.
Malewitz alerted detectives to a littleknown fact about stolen parking meters: inside the mechanism is a serial number, and with that number it’s possible to send away to the company that makes the meter. In exchange for a fee, anyone with a serial number can receive a key.
All of TC’s meters have the same lock, Malewitz told police. One key opens all of them.
Malewitz did not return a message seeking comment.
Traverse City Police launched an aggressive investigation. Patrols were on the lookout for suspicious people around parking meters. Undercover detectives spent nights out surveilling the streets.
The city also responded to staunch the bleeding.
Parking services staff had been emptying meters every week or 10 days; now they were emptying them every other day.
Apparently, it was determined to be too expensive to change the locks.
“In speaking with Malewitz, he indicated that there were possible solutions to this issue,” one detective wrote. “However, ... these solutions would require a substantial investment in order to initiate.”
Part of the way into the investigation, police learned about a similar case downstate.
The Birmingham Police Department was investigating a case where someone apparently got a master key by stealing a parking meter, getting a serial number, and sending away for the key.
They learned the name of the downstate suspect: Douglas Hastings.
Meanwhile, the parking meter thieves struck again. Around June 21, approximately a dozen meters on the 300 and 400 block of East Front Street were emptied.
Det. Keith Gillis, the lead detective on the case, and Det. Kevin Gay determined July 19 was one of the nights when the thieves might return and they decided to work an all-night shift.
It turned out they picked the right night. At 4:20 a.m., patrol officers found a 1994 Chevrolet Suburban parked on East State Street with people inside.
Officers checked the occupants and discovered Hastings’ daughter, Kacey Lynn O’Neil, 22, and a passenger whose name was connected to the City of Birmingham parking meter thefts, Terry Dale Craig, 28.
(O’Neil and Craig have not been charged in Grand Traverse County in connection with the parking meter thefts.)
As the officers talked to them about what they were doing, an older man walked up to the car and the officers asked him for ID. It was Hastings.
“I then asked Mr. Hastings where he came from and he stated that he was just walking back from downtown, down the sidewalk,” the officer wrote in a police report.
GOLDEN KEYS PAINTED GREEN
Gillis and Gay were called to the scene to interview the suspects and search the car.
Amid trash and empty pop cans and a baby seat and baby strollers, police found two bags stuffed with coins, one black bag that contained $286 in change, and one orange bag with around $255.
They also found a stocking cap with a handle and circular frame attached, apparently a homemade change-collecting device. There was also a large quantity of plastic gloves.
And they found two golden keys, each painted green.
‘KEEPS DRAGGING HER INTO THIS’
Gillis questioned O’Neil and at first she said she didn’t understand what this was all about.
She said they were parked on the street at 4 a.m. because Hastings had said he wanted to go for a walk. They dropped him off on the sidewalk and waited for him in the parked car.
Under further questioning, O’Neil admitted they brought Hastings downtown from their motel to get money from the parking meters, Gillis wrote.
O’Neil said Hastings owed her some money.
“Even though he had money in his pocket to pay her ... he was going to go out and get more money to pay her what he owed her,” Gillis wrote. “Ms. O’neil stated that she does not know why Doug keeps doing this, and dragging her and her boyfriend into this.”
Gillis also interviewed Terry Craig. “When I questioned him in reference to the process, he advised that Mr. Hastings has a key to open the parking meters, stating that he is very protective of that key,” Gillis wrote. “When I described it as the golden key, he kind of snickered in reference to my comment, advising that Mr. Hastings doesn’t let anybody touch his parking meter keys.”
Hastings refused an interview with police.
CASHED IN AT MEIJER
Hasting’s companions had mentioned a trip earlier that evening to Meijer.
Detectives knew that someone who steals change by the pound might be drawn to the Coinstar machine at Meijer, which turns heaps of change into cash in exchange for a cut.
Detectives checked with Meijer security and learned someone that evening had taken a large amount of change to a Coinstar machine.
The investigators got in-store surveillance footage from the time when the Coinstar machine had been used and Gillis recognized Hastings from a still photo generated from the footage.
Later, detectives learned Hastings’s Coinstar transactions that day were worth $428.
Surveillance showed him leave the parking lot in a blue Ford Mustang convertible.
LOTS OF EXPERIENCE
At his sentencing hearing, Hastings apologized to the court for taking up their time. He has a lot of experience in front of a judge.
Hastings has devoted his life to minor crimes that come with relatively short sentences.
His Michigan Department of Corrections rap sheet begins in 1967, when he was sentenced to two to 10 years for breaking and entering. He was sentenced for larceny in a building in 1968, and three to five years in 1972 for breaking and entering.
There were other cases of larceny, receiving stolen property and conspiracy to transport drugs into prison.
Hastings has recently specialized in stealing change. He was convicted of breaking and entering of a coin-operated device in Emmet County in 2000. Hastings also has three previous convictions for the same crime in Ingham County going back to 2007.
And even as he was wanted on a felony warrant in Traverse City, parking meters were apparently calling his name.
Hastings was arrested Dec. 4 in Ferndale along with Craig and another man, suspected of breaking into parking meters there.