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Originally published Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Coinstar thefts were inside job, court documents show

The 39-year-old Coinstar employee seemed to know just what he was doing. Wearing a company shirt and jacket, Michael R. Burns strolled with purpose...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The 39-year-old Coinstar employee seemed to know just what he was doing.

Wearing a company shirt and jacket, Michael R. Burns strolled with purpose into an Albertsons supermarket in Lynnwood in January, opened up the Coinstar kiosk and went to work, according to police.

But he wasn't repairing anything, police say.

Police allege that the Maple Valley man, who was trained to service the company's broken coin-counting machines, used his inside knowledge to steal more than $441,000 from that machine and others like it across Western Washington, Oregon and California. During the weekend of April 26, police claim, Burns flew to California and stole $225,000 from several Coinstar kiosks there.

According to court documents, Burns, who worked at the company's manufacturing center in Kent, accessed the machines' cash boxes using a key, a security bypass code and "a backdoor feature only known to someone with intimate knowledge of these machines."

Dave Wold, spokesman for the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney's Office, said Burns was charged with first-degree theft Tuesday in Everett District Court.

Police and company officials said they are still investigating and are not yet certain of the size and scope of the thefts. Police refused to say whether additional arrests were possible.

According to court documents, police have recovered about $130,000 in cash from Burns' home and car.

Bellevue-based Coinstar operates its familiar green coin-counting machines at 15,400 locations around the world, including supermarkets, drugstores, banks and Wal-Mart Stores. The company, which also owns 280,000 entertainment machines from kiddie rides to toy-grabbing crane games, expects total sales this year will top $800 million.

Some machines convert loose change into a receipt, which customers can cash in at store registers. Other kiosks sell prepaid debit cards, phone cards and gift cards for cash.

According to court documents, the company contracts with an armored-car company to pick up the money from the machines every few months.

Coinstar officials contacted Lynnwood police after discovering a loss of $17,458 at the Lynnwood Albertsons kiosk and identifying Burns from store videos, according to court documents. Company officials declined to say what kind of kiosks were targeted.

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Burns, who was not authorized to access the machines outside of the Kent manufacturing center, was seen replacing full cash drawers with empty ones, according to court documents.

"To anyone looking on, it would look like he was supposed to be servicing the machine," said Lynnwood police Detective Doug Teachworth.

Court documents also allege that about $163,000 was stolen in a similar fashion from 14 machines at supermarkets in Everett, Bothell, Seattle, Monroe, Kent, Burien, Renton and Mountlake Terrace.

Coinstar additionally learned of $53,000 in thefts from machines in Oregon and $225,000 in thefts from machines in California over the April 26 weekend. Coinstar investigators determined that Burns had purchased plane tickets to California for that weekend, court documents allege.

Burns was arrested at work on Friday, and police served search warrants on his home. Police seized a 2007 GMC Denali, high-priced electronics, a 2008 Harley-Davidson motorcycle and about $130,000 in cash, according to court documents.

Police said about $150,000 remains missing.

Coinstar spokeswoman Marci Maule would not disclose Burns' job title or length of employment.

He is being held in the Snohomish County Jail on $250,000 bail.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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