ATM bandit sentenced to seven years |

ATM bandit sentenced to seven years

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – Admitted ATM bandit Eric Callaghan used skills he learned as a Marine in Iraq to break into almost two dozen ATM machines during a two-year crime spree, prosecutors said.

Callaghan, a Marine combat veteran with an honorable discharge, was sentenced Thursday in District Court to seven years in state prison – one year for each of the seven felony burglar counts to which he pleaded guilty in Eagle and Summit counties. He also has to pay up to $200,000 in restitution.

But that may not be all. He faces up to 18 years in Mesa County for breaking into ATM machines there. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in Grand Junction on July 6.

He admitted breaking into 47 ATMs, 25 in Eagle and Summit counties and 22 more in Mesa County.

Prosecutor Braden Angel asked for 12 years in prison. Callaghan’s public defender, Reed Owens, relayed Callaghan’s request for probation combined with a lighter sentence in community corrections.

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Callaghan had no criminal history before launching into his two-year crime spree. He told the court he fell into depression when his best friend from Iraq committed suicide and his mother in Nebraska was stricken with a disease that left her suffering with up to 15 seizures a day.

District Court Judge Fred Gannett said he was sympathetic, but rejected Callaghan’s plea for probation and a lighter sentence to be served in a community corrections facility.

“You remain an enigma to me. It’s hard to understand the facts of your life and the choices you have made,” Gannett told Callaghan as he passed sentence. “Someone’s history usually offers a thread that leads to these behaviors. That’s not true in your case.

“This escapade over two years reflects a remarkable lack of critical thinking,” Gannett said.

Callaghan broke into his first ATM on Vail Mountain. His burglary spree lasted two years across Eagle, Summit and Mesa counties.

“He’d wait in the bushes for security to come by and then move in, knowing they weren’t coming back for some time,” said prosecutor Braden Angel.

Gannett said Callaghan’s choices baffled him.

“This to me is a series of very calculated decisions in which each piece of misbehavior was done with an eye toward what came before and what would come after. Frankly, I don’t get it,” Gannett said. “It’s a hard life you’ve chosen. I wish you the best.”

Dan Sunday owns the vending machine company and many of the ATMs that Callaghan admitted breaking into.

Callaghan had called his crimes victimless, hurting no one but the insurance companies, Sunday said.

Not true, Sunday said.

“We spent tens of thousands of dollars trying to prevent this. Our employees all took a pay cut. This cost us about $200,000,” Sunday said. “He has learned nothing from the five or six months he’s been in jail. He needs to learn a very strong lesson that this wasn’t fun and games.”

Owens argued passionately on Callaghan’s behalf.

“Mr. Callaghan is somewhat different from many of the people we see in this courtroom. He has no criminal history, served his country in the Marine Corps and was discharged honorably,” Owens said.

“He was not living a lavish lifestyle. He was living in a storage facility with minimal personal belongings,” Owens said.

Callaghan apologized and said he takes responsibility for his actions, saying he fell into a deep depression when his friend committed suicide and his mother fell ill.

“I am indeed a good person who made some very poor choices. Toward the end I knew what I was doing was wrong and it had to stop. I had planned to stop and move to Chicago where I have family and close friends,” Callaghan said.

Lt. Greg Daly, Avon Detective Jeremy Holmstrom and Avon Detective Sgt. Jonathan Lovins were all part of a multi-agency team that caught Callaghan.

He made a mistake during an Avon burglary and that’s what got him, Daly said.

Callaghan used two grinders to break into an Avon ATM, then threw them in the trash behind the building.

Officer Yvonne Ramirez, as part of her crime scene investigation, looked into a Dumpster at the rear of the business, and spotted the grinders.

Holmstrom packaged them and they started looking around for places that sold power tools. They found their way to Avon’s Wal-Mart.

Holmstrom worked with Wal-Mart’s manager and asset protection manager, and they figured out that Callaghan paid cash for the grinders about 3 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011, minutes before his last burglary.

Callaghan showed up at Wal-Mart in a taxi, purchased the grinders with cash, left the store and got in the same taxi. He was wearing a hoodie, a beanie cap pulled down low over his eyes, and a bright green jacket.

The taxi company gave them the phone number Callaghan used.

The police got a search warrant for the phone, and that got them the phone’s history, what phone numbers had been called, and where it was.

They learned that the phone was in Nebraska, as was Callaghan.

On Thanksgiving night Daly rang the police chief in that small Nebraska town. The chief was the only officer on duty, so he went to the location and ran the license plates on the car.

When they learned who lived there, they went to Facebook. That enabled them to link the phone to Callaghan.

When Callaghan returned to Colorado they put him under surveillance.

Police said Callaghan started acting suspiciously, doing either counter surveillance maneuvers, selecting another target or trying to get out of town.

They decided it was time to move.

When they contacted Callaghan at a local hotel, he had a carry-on size bag with him. They took him to the Avon police department for a chat.

They applied for a warrant to search the bag and while two of them were conducting the interview, the third searched that bag.

In that bag they found an ATM drawer from one of his first burglaries. He kept it as both a souvenir and as a practice tool, poilice said.

When Grand Junction police investigators interviewed him the next day, he wasn’t quite as surprised.

“It was a great example of collaborative policing in this county,” Daly said. “It was a 24-hour job for about two weeks solid.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or

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