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Originally published October 2, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 2, 2008 at 2:34 AM

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Laborers "set up as decoys" in robbery with inner-tube escape plan

Just as a group of laborers lured to a Monroe park by the promise of landscaping work were beginning to wonder if they were part of a joke, they found they were more likely decoys in an elaborately planned robbery in which the suspect may have used an inner tube to escape.

Seattle Times staff reporter

After waiting more than 15 minutes in a Monroe park for a job supervisor that never showed up, Mike Stevenson and several other men all dressed in blue shirts, work boots and safety vests started thinking that maybe they were being set up for a joke.

"We started wondering if guys were going to show up and shoot paintballs at us, or if we were about to be 'Punk'd' and Ashton Kutcher was going to show up," said Stevenson, referring to the practical-joke reality-TV show hosted by the actor.

But it was no joke.

"Turns out we were set up as decoys for a robbery instead," said the 30-year-old independent contractor from Bremerton.

Stevenson was one of about a dozen or so laborers who responded to a Craigslist ad posted online Sept. 27 seeking laborers for a landscaping job Tuesday morning in Monroe. The job posting promised $28.50 per hour and stated that "all labor workers must purchase safety glasses or equivalent eye protection, ventilator mask, yellow safety vest, long sleeves and no shorts, along with proper foot protection. ... Landscaping experience needed."

Monroe police believe the ad was part of an elaborately planned robbery carried out by a man who made off with a bag of cash after dousing an armored car guard with pepper spray. The robber is then believed to have run to the nearby Woods Creek, where he may have made his getaway on an inner tube.

The robber was dressed like the men sought in the Craigslist ad, leading detectives to believe the gathering of would-be workers was meant to throw off investigators, said Monroe Police Department spokeswoman Debbie Willis.

"We did some research after the actual event [Tuesday], and we believe the ad was not a credible ad and that it may have been an attempt to get people dressed like the suspect into the area," Willis said.

Stevenson said he applied for the job, which was advertised as a nine-day temporary stint, and was sent an e-mail on Monday advising him to report for work at Eagle Park in Monroe at 11 a.m. the following day. He said he turned over a copy of the e-mail response to police.

"The e-mail specifically said to wear a blue shirt and said 'if a project manager is not there, do not leave,' " Stevenson said.

He said there was no contact number and no company name on Monday's e-mail or the original job posting.

As the men waited in the park for a supervisor, Stevenson said they "were just joking about being set up when we saw the cops come flying by."

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A short time later, another man dressed in the same type of blue work shirt drove up in a pickup to Stevenson's group and told them, "We just got scammed."

The man in the pickup told Stevenson he was part of another batch of would-be workers who were assigned to meet in the Albertson's parking lot near the scene of the robbery.

The robbery happened about 11 a.m. outside the Bank of America parking lot at Old Owen Road and Highway 2, police said.

Witnesses told police that the suspect watched as a security guard returned to the armored car from the bank with cash-filled canvas bags.

The robber ran up to the guard, sprayed him with pepper spray, grabbed the money and ran about 100 yards through Eagle Park to Woods Creek, Willis said.

The man disappeared and police said they believe he may have jumped onto an inner tube and floated west toward the Skykomish River or that he may have had an accomplice waiting for him downstream.

An inner tube was later recovered on the bank of Woods Creek. Willis said Wednesday that police are not certain exactly how the robber escaped, but that the inner tube was likely involved.

"We believe it was involved somehow and that's why we've taken it into evidence," Willis said.

Stevenson said he did not see either the robbery or the suspect.

Police said they do not know how many blue-shirted decoys in all were lured to the area by the false ad, but are asking anyone with information to call their tip line at 360-863-4600.

News accounts of the inner-tube getaway were picked up by the national media. On Wednesday, Willis said she had fielded calls from "Good Morning America" and national news outlets, all wanting information on the robber dubbed by some as "D. B. Tuber."

Stevenson said he was sorry to be out of the $30 in gas it cost to drive to Monroe, but was glad he applied for the job anyhow.

"It was an intriguing predicament," he said, "and too good of a story not to tell."

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

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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