In late 1992, Larry Phillips was caught in a simple sting operation by Denver police whilst operating quite a bold property scam. Below is a reconstruction of events pieced together from police and probation reports, court records and certain media articles.
September 1992 Phillips contacts several Colorado real estate agents, representing himself as a prospective buyer; he was shown over 50 properties. Of the 50 properties he ran his scam on at least 2 of them. Whilst viewing the houses under the pretence of buying or leasing them Phillips positioned himself so as to see the combination of the lockbox which contained the property's keys as the agent entered it.
5th October 1992 Phillips placed several advertisements in local newspapers advertising properties to rent, the ads gave the contact name of 'Mark'. Cheryl Meyer made a call in relation to an advert in the Rocky Mountain News, she reached 'Mark's' voicemail, and left a message.
6th October 1992
Phillips returns Meyer's call and told her the house she wished to rent had already been let, he said he was in his office and would call her back shortly with details of other properties that she may be interested in.
Phillips calls back and arranges to meet Meyer at 1708 South Bryant St, she arrived at that address about 30 minutes later and found a gentleman wearing dark glasses there, he introduced himself as 'Mark'.
Cheryl's husband, Steven, agreed to the rental agreement but wished to look over the house himself, so he and his wife drove back to South Bryant to have one final look. Upon arriving they ran into the owner, and introduced themselves as his new tenants. He told them the house wasn't for rent, but for sale only and that he had no clue who 'Mark' might be. The owner gave them the details of the legal property agent from the firm REMAX, who were the authorized seller.
The Meyers went home and called the agent; the agent listened to their story and seeing the scam in progress, advised them to keep their appointment with 'Mark' but to inform the local police.
Phillips had quoted Meyer $600 for rent and $400 for a damage deposit, and requested a payment in cash. Meyer told him to come to her home at 12 noon to collect payment.
Detective Hogan posed as Meyer's husband, even donning one of his mechanics shirts to aid in the subterfuge. At 1pm Phillips had still not shown up and the stakeout was called off, but at 2:35pm Meyer contacted the detectives and said Phillips had called and said he would be coming to collect the money with 30 minutes.
At approx 3pm Phillips entered the street in a black Nissan 240SX and parked further down the block, later examination showed the vehicle had no license plate attached.
Detective Hogan stayed in the kitchen and monitored Phillips communications with Meyer.
Phillips, ever the charmer, stated how nice it was to see her again. Phillips was then introduced to Hogan, Phillips asked if he might see Hogan's most recent pay stub, Hogan consummate in his role and not faltering a beat asked Meyer if she would go it for him.
Hogan had in his possession $1000 in bait money, which had previously been copied. Whilst Meyer was out of the kitchen, and possible harm's way, Det. Hogan handed Phillips the $1000 bait money, which Phillips accepted and signed the lease agreement.
Seconds later several other officers entered the house, identifications were made and Phillips was arrested, to which he offered no resistance. Phillips, knowing exactly how minor the arrest was yet seemingly giving no cares for his victims, seemed in good humor and remarked 'You're good, this shirt is a nice touch'.
A quick search turned up $2000 in his black leather Condotti briefcase. It seemed as though Phillips had seen other customers that day too. Phillips' Nissan was towed to the Denver Police impound lot as evidence. The vehicle had no license plates nor registration, only a temporary sticker in the rear window which had no owner information, only the name and telephone number of a dealership in California.
He later gave a social security number to one of the detectives which turned out to be from a woman in Arizona, there appears to be no known connection between the two.
7th & 8th October 1992 Upon reaching the Police headquarters Phillips was advised again of his rights, he signed a form saying he understood his rights and that he was willing to speak to a detective. He signed it Mark Wright, and gave his birth date as 09-01-1965.
His clothing, briefcase and car are searched, they revealed the following:
A piece of yellow paper in his pants pocket, listing names and addresses.
The Meyer's rental contract.
$30 in his jacket pocket.
A piece of paper with several names and address in Calgary, Ab, including a storage rental unit depot. 25c in coins.
3 rental contracts relating to Veryl Manion, Paul Trudell and Jacob Garcia.
The car yielded a carwash ticket, a stationary receipt, and 2 pay stubs.
An unanswered question: What was Phillips using a storage unit in Alberta, Canada for?
During questioning he says that the Nissan is owned by a friend from California, he gives a number to this friend. The friend was his mother, Dorothy Clay.
He also tells detectives that he wasn't at the house, a strange lie. His manner strikes the detectives as very evasive. Reading the transcript of interview it is easy to see just how Phillips was trying to protect himself from investigation beyond the crime he had been arrested for. He consistently refused to confirm his address, and even ignores many questions totally.
Below is a transcript of his interview, conducted at 4pm on the 7th October 1992 at police headquarters, Denver:
Q: Have I advised you of your rights?
Q: Have I explained to you why you are under arrest?
Q: Do you understand that you are arrested on at least four felony counts at this time?
Q: Do you want to involve anyone else in my questioning?
Q: Were you alone today?
Q: Do you live in Denver?
A: I already told you where I lived.
Q: What's the address?
A: I don't want to tell you the address again.
Q: You told me first it was 700 Lincoln, I told you there are no houses there, then you said 700 S. Lincoln is that correct?
A: I already told you the address.
Q: Were you at 1708 S. Bryant yesterday?
Q: Do you know where that's at?
A: Not personally.
Q: Were you ever in [Redacted]?
Q: Today when you were arrested at [Meyer's address], why were you there?
Q: What do you do for a living?
A: I'm in investments.
Q: Do you have business cards that say Mark Wright?
A: The ones in the briefcase.
Q: Are they yours?
Q: Whose car were you driving today?
A: Registered to Dorothy Clay.
Q: From where?
A: [Redacted, presumed California address].
Q: Describe her.
A: She is around 5'4, Hispanic, brownish-black hair, in 40's, 160lbs, heavy set.
Q: Do you know where she is?
A: In California, she was in LA.
Q: How do you know her?
Q: What does she do?
A: She is an engineer.
Q: You had $2000.00 cash on you today, where did you get it?
Q: How did you get the combination to the lock box on S.Bryant?
A: It was given to me.
Q: By who?
Q: Are you on probation or parole?
Q: Do you have a criminal record?
Q: Do you have any identification?
Q: Do you have a college degree?
Q: Did you graduate from high school?
Q: Where were you born?
A: Here in Denver.
Q: Have you filed IRS returns for yearly income?
Q: Are you married?
Q: Have you ever been married?
Q: If you live at 700 S. Lincoln can we go with you to the house and check it?
Q: Are you licensed to sell real estate in Colorado?
Q: Is there anyone who can vouch for you?
Q: Why not?
Q: Do you have parents that are living?
Q: Do you have relatives that are local in the Denver area?
A: A few.
Q: What is your heritage?
A: Italian and Hispanic.
Q: Where did you buy the Rolex?
A: West coast somewhere.
Q: What did it cost?
A: Its platinum, special edition, around $11,000.
Q: Is there anything else to add?
We can see that Phillips is deceptive or refusing to answer questions that will incriminate himself or give detectives leads to his true identity to the tune of 59% of all questions asked of him.
The most effusive he ever is in that interview room is about two subjects. His mother and his watch. The watch question, is an easy one for him, for his answers will give the investigating officers nothing relating to his current crime yet it provides him with the opportunity to flaunt his 'wealth'. I find subtle nuances in those two answers, his mother and his pretensions to financial affluence. Two things that meant a great deal to him, one of which he would lose within the next 18 months, the other he would chase to his grave.
Phillips deceptions are many and varied in this interview, we shall choose just one to illustrate the web he was trying to weave in an attempt to deceive the interviewing officers.
He originally gave his address as 700 Lincoln, which the detective correctly pointed out contained no housing units. Phillips then switched tack and gave them 700 South Lincoln, which does. In fact 700 South Lincoln was the home address of his father, the detectives just didn't know how close they were to cracking his identity at that point. Phillips was playing them, get caught in a lie and they won't believe the truth when you tell it to them. Larry was playing a game of subtle manipulation.
The reality of the fact was that Phillips was not living at 700 South Lincoln, he was staying with Santos at her parents address in Lakewood, Colorado.
Phillips was moved to the city jail, under the name John Doe as there was no corroboration of his Mark Wright alias. Whilst Phillips languished in jail, the REMAX agent came forward, examined a photo of Phillips and claimed she had never seen him before nor did she know how he obtained the lockbox combination.
Mark Millard also came in to talk to detectives, explaining that on the 6th October he had been subject to the same scam by the same individual, on the 7th he had handed Phillips $1000. This money was photocopied and returned to him from the $2000 found in Phillips briefcase upon his arrest.
Teresa Brandon, a realtor for Custom Properties in Denver also contacted detectives, she gave a lengthy interview explaining that Phillips was the man she had shown multiple properties to around the Denver metro area, Phillips had approached her using the name Mark McGuire and told her that that he was relocating from Austin, Texas with his family and buying a business in Denver.
Brandon was struck that Phillips, apparently a family man, never asked about schools in the local area. She noticed that the sticker in the rear window of his black Nissan 240 had California information on it. Something didn't add up, and because of her suspicions she declined showing him any more properties.
The Denver detectives contacted Phillips mother, Dorothy Clay, who was very evasive in her answers to the detectives questions, the detectives not at all impressed with what they had heard from her arranged for officers from Glendale, Ca to visit her home. (It is unknown if this visit ever materialised).
Phillips, unaware of all the evidence stacking up against him remained in jail upon a $1.000.000 bond, charged with 2 counts of burglary, 2 counts of theft, and one of attempted theft. Officers expected to be able to file additional charges against him in the coming days.
9th October 1992 Det. Tyus returned to the city jail and advised Phillips that the SSN he gave when he was arrested was that of a deceased woman. Tyus also informed Phillips that the black Nissan had been traced back to a Dorothy Clay, who he believed Phillips was related to.
The detective used the age old trick of 'come clean, it'll be better for you in the long run'.
Phillips, perhaps showing his criminal immaturity, perhaps balancing the fact he might potentially land a harsher sentence if he continued this deception, accepted detective Tyus' offer.
He admitted that Dorothy Clay was his mother and that his name was Larry Eugene Phillips, he confirmed his date of birth and his arrest record from Ca, and he stated that he hadn't given his real name before as he did not want his family embarrassed by his arrest (a strange lie in itself given that the first person he gave police authority to contact was in fact his mother).
Tyus checked his name and fingerprints through NCIC, reported back to the jail and informed Phillips that his identity had been confirmed, and a voicemail had been left on his mothers answering machine.
Philips was then informed that he was being investigated in the ski resort of Vail, Colorado for very similar charges with an almost identical modus operandi. Nothing ever seems to have come from that particular branch of the investigation.
Detectives Tyus and Hogan noted that Phillips was complex, a polite person but evasive and less that caring about his victims. One of the detectives also noted about Phillips 'There was something in him under the surface, like a volcano'.
They recommend a custodial sentence for Phillips, thinking that anything less and he would continue his scam across the country. Phillips had found a niche, a relatively low risk for moderate reward crime, all it took was to be a good showman and some time sourcing lockbox numbers. The moderate income from this enterprise was made all the more tempting the realisation that the potential for incarceration was surprisingly low, it was seen as a low end crime, larceny by trick, a con.
Yet Phillips had fallen foul of even this, his previous exploits in Los Angeles had been dodged by the merest whisker, he moved cities and switched tack and yet he still failed. Not because he was bad at what he was doing, just the law of averages always seemed to work against him, he caught the bad breaks.
Inside he was seething, and an idea was beginning to form. It would soon be nothing less than 'go big or go home'. His downfall, some five years before North Hollywood seems, with hindsight, almost assured.
The owner of the house came to speak to the detectives; he told them that on the 5th October he had seen Phillips at his home, when asked why he was there Phillips had told the owner that he was showing the home to prospective buyers, when asked why he was wearing dark glasses inside the house Phillips responded that he had just had cataract surgery and was sensitive to the light.
The owner also told detectives that he has seen Phillips car outside his house on the 6th too, but continued to the store, when he came back the vehicle was gone and his house was secure. It was later that night when the Meyer's had come knocking and he told them his property was for sale only. Had he driven past when Phillips was showing Cheryl Meyer the house? It seems extremely likely.
Several preliminary court dates passed whilst Phillips remained in custody, mainly legal wrangles over reduction of his bail, initially set at $1.000.000, and disclosure of evidence to the various attorneys.
On the 13th October 1992 Phillips appears before Judge Brian J Campbell, bail is denied.
Three days later and some ten days after arrest Phillips again appears before the court. His lawyer, Doug Jewel, argues for a bail reduction to the amount of $10,000.
The sum total of Santos life savings.
He is released two days after this hearing on the understanding that he place no more advertisements in local newspapers.
In retrospect it seems like a paltry token payment for his freedom, it is easy to think that the courts did not do enough to hold him given what we now know about his exploits in Los Angeles. At the time though? He was just another low rent grifter busted on a pretty poor con. Nobody had any idea of what was to come.
On a probation form sent to Phillips lawyer, Sandra Saltrese, she stated:
'Mr. Phillips has consistently been a co-operative and responsible client. His whole demeanour throughout my relationship with him as his attorney has been considerate and appreciative. He is punctual and mature. He is very intellectual and if given an opportunity would be a very productive member of society. More clients should behave as Mr. Phillips; it would make our jobs easier. It is noteworthy that both investigating detectives remarked to me how nice a person Mr. Phillips is for someone so...'(Here the report becomes illegible).
Phillips was doing what he did best at that point, running his con, convincing those who held the keys to his freedom that he wasn't a threat to the world. His manipulation of Saltrese worked, she only had limited time to see him and as long as his mask held true she would not get to see what Tyus and Hogan had caught a faint glimpse of. The volcano waiting to explode.
The mask held, Saltrese bought his most of his act.
Probation reports somewhat concur with the detectives recommendation that whilst Phillips was a cooperative entity within their system that he could care less about the charge, the crime or the victims, that he saw his arrest as an occupational hazard.
Recommendation that he sentenced under statute 16-11-212, and to serve 2 years in Denver county jail whilst participating in a work release program. Plus $230 in costs.
Tensions between Phillips and Santos are at an all time high, with his possible incarceration looming and her now having no savings and the prospect of having to look after two children by herself, verbal altercations become more and more heated.
After Phillips apparently returns home one night with a hickey on his neck Santos voices her suspicions that Phillips is carrying on a relationship with Jeanette Federico, a young lady who it is believed Phillips attended Westminster High School with.
She had hit the nail on the head, Phillips had been fooling around with Federico since late summer of 1992.
Sometime, believed early November 1992, and after yet another verbal jousting session with Santos, Phillips allegedly spoke to his infant son, telling him 'Look after mommy now', and proceeded to walk out of their lives.
Santos said she never saw Phillips again until that fateful day in 1997.
On the 16th February 1993 Phillips remains in the Denver area as he signs a probation statement regarding his financial solvency, he lists his assets as $0.00.
March 16th 1992; This is the last time we know Phillips is still in the Denver area as on this day he undergoes drug screening for the probation service. He was tested for opiates, cocaine, THC, amphetamines and barbiturates, the results for all tested drugs was negative.
26th March 1993; Date of sentencing, and the defendant is a no-show.
Larry Eugene Phillips Jr, like his father some 24 years previous, was on the run.