Robin Marc Smith (inset, 2007 booking photo) had a 30-year career as a Grinch – and he was remarkably good at it – so it’s surprising to see him don a Santa hat so that he can break, enter and give. Smith organized a charity event in a small eastern Ontario town in which a band of holiday ‘bandits’ broke into the house of a needy family. The group of about a dozen people knew the single mom wasn’t home because she had taken her two young children to visit a mall Santa. The group left gifts and $500 cash behind and no clue to their identity. Local media around Tweed, a small village 200 kilometres east of Toronto, reported the feel-good story but with no mention of Smith’s infamous past. Smith tells me (hear the full interview after the jump), that everyone in the Tweed area knows about his past.
For more than three decades, Smith was a thief and fraud artist who stole credit cards, defrauded banks and pocketed goods, cash and services worth millions (see my story, below, from 2010, about Smith’s return to Canada). Born and raised in London, Ontario, he committed crimes across Canada and the United States and served prison terms in both countries. “I was a thief and I took for 30 years,” he says. Smith was released from prison in Ontario in 2011 and is now living on a rural property near Tweed with a girlfriend.
In 2007, he and his wife Dorothy Ann Smith were arrested in southern California for an apparent 13-year crime spree that primarily involved the theft of wallets and fraudulent use of credit cards in the Irvine area, about 100 kilometres south of Los Angeles. In November that year, Smith’s wife died and he was sentenced to five years in state penitentiary, though he was required to serve just two and a half years before he would be returned to Canada to face charges of escaping custody. At the time he was arrested in California in 2007, Smith was a fugitive from Canadian justice. He had bolted while free from prison in 1991 on a pass.
But Smiths says his days of running, hiding and stealing are behind him. He claims to have had an epiphany after he was sentenced in 2007 in California (He explains it at the 10:00 min mark of the interview below).
“It was like a peace came over me,” he says. “I’ve never had the desire to commit fraud again.”
Smith says his only child, a daughter, died in a car crash in December 2011. He says the death of his daughter and wife near Christmas make the holiday season particularly painful. Smith organized the ‘Christmas break and enter’ project in Tweed, with the help of a local church and area businesses, in an attempt to refocus himself and give back to the community, he says.
Chronology of Smith’s Criminal Career
1986 – 1989 – Perpetrates hundreds of thefts in seven cities across Canada – Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, London – that are valued at more than $100,000. Poses as a furnace inspector to get into office buildings, steals wallets and uses stolen credit cards to defraud financial institutions
1989 – Arrested in Toronto and charged with 162 crimes in seven cities (131 in Toronto alone); he bolts when freed on bail
1990 – Returned to Toronto from Florida, later convicted of 76 crimes and sent to prison for three and a half years
1991 – Given three-day pass to leave Collins Bay penitentiary, a medium-security prison in Kingston, Ont. He doesn’t return to prison. He flees to the United States and by 1994, has landed in southern California.
1994 – 2007 – Smith works his phoney repairman scam again, this time in Irvine, Calif. and neighbouring areas
March 2007 – Irvine, Calif. Police Department issues a release announcing that it has arrested Robin Marc Smith, 49, and his wife, Dorothy Ann Smith, 57, and charged them with thefts and frauds that date as far back as 1994 with losses estimated at more than $1 million. Robin Smith is eventually sentenced to five years in state penitentiary. Dorothy dies in November 2007.
January 2010 – After serving two and a half years of the American sentence, Smith is returned to Kingston, Ontario to face charges for escaping custody 19 years earlier
February 2010 – He pleads guilty to being unlawfully at large, is handed nine months, concurrent to his original sentence, so there is no new time, although he goes back to prison to continue serving the sentence he ran from in 1991.
June 2011 – Released from prison in Kingston
My newspaper story, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard in January 2010, after Smith was returned to Ontario from California to face charges of escaping lawful custody:
A slippery career thief who has been on the lam from a Kingston prison for nearly two decades is back behind bars in Canada, after a stint in a California state penitentiary.
Robin Marc Smith, 51, was returned to Kingston this week, according to provincial police. In California, he served time after he was caught stealing credit cards and making fraudulent purchases.
American authorities realized that Smith was a fugitive.
“They contacted Canadian authorities,” said Sgt. Kristine Rae, of the OPP. Canadian police were told last September that Smith was in custody. He was returned to Kingston Wednesday.
Smith was at Collins Bay Institution in Kingston in 1991, serving a three-and-a-half year sentence for 76 crimes, most involving stolen credit cards.
He was given a three-day pass in November that year to leave prison. He didn’t return.
It appears that Smith landed in southern California a few years later, along with a wife, Dorothy AnnSmith. It was the second time he fled Canadian justice by heading south.
Smith and his partner came to the attention of police in Irvine, Calif., a high-tech hotbed of 200,000 people about 100 kilometres south of Los Angeles.
“I think this case was pretty significant for us because they were being very successful at what they were doing,” Lt. Henry Boggs, of the Irvine department told the Whig-Standard yesterday.
Investigators saw a pattern of wallet and purse thefts, most in south Orange County, in February 2007. Surveillance tapes revealed that a man and woman were stealing credit cards from commercial buildings.
“That’s when we knew we had a serial criminal here,” Boggs said.
The tapes showed Robin Smith would enter a building pretending to be a technician checking lighting or air conditioning. While workers weren’t looking, he would snatch wallets.
The pair used the stolen credit cards to buy expensive items like televisions and game consoles. They sought to throw off investigators by making the purchases in another police jurisdiction.
“They were pretty good at crossing jurisdictional lines,” Boggs said. “They’d commit the theft here and go down to San Diego and make their purchases.”
Irvine investigators worked with the Orange County Sherrif’s Department to crack the case. Officers believed the Smiths were responsible for many thefts and frauds, perhaps hundreds, dating back to 1994 that involved losses of $1 million.
“This was the way they made their living,” Boggs said. “They went out every day from what we can tell and looked [for] commercial businesses to commit these thefts.”
The pair were arrested in March 2007, while they were living at a San Diego County hotel.
Robin Smith freely revealed his Canadian citizenship. Boggs said documents show that he told investigators his last address was in London, Ont.
Smith and his wife were convicted. Boggs said he believes Robin Smith received a sentence of three-to-five years in state penitentiary.
Smith’s crime spree in southern California followed a similar pattern to his exploits in southern Florida.
Smith was arrested at a luxury hotel in West Palm Beach in 1990 and charged with stealing and using credit cards. Police said he posed as a heating and cooling system inspector to get into businesses, where he rifled purses and wallets.
In some cases, he would call credit card companies, posing as a merchant checking on the authenticity of a credit card. If it wasn’t reported stolen, he’d keep making fraudulent purchases.
Smith was in Florida hiding out from Canadian authorities.
In 1989, Smith was arrested in Toronto and was charged with more than 150 crimes there and in Hamilton, Windsor, London, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. He bolted when he was freed on bail.
Smith used his familiar ruse in Canada, posing as a heating and cooling system inspector to get into office buildings, where he would steal wallets.
In November 1990, Smith was returned to Toronto from Florida.
Corrections Canada records show that he was convicted of 76 crimes including assault causing bodily harm and 51 stolen credit-card related offences.
His sentence would have expired in July 1994.
He’ll face new charges stemming from his flight from Canada.