46-time convicted felon scammed Chicago businesses by posing as a city employee, prosecutors say

46 strikes and you’re out, pal. Or maybe not. We’ll see.

Prosecutors say a man on parole for his 44th, 45th, and 46th felony convictions is the guy who dressed up like a city inspector to scam businesses out of money on Chicago’s North Side earlier this month.

Ronald Browning, also known as Ron Brown, faces two counts of burglary in his latest tango with the justice system. He also had two outstanding arrest warrants, officials said.

Chicago police issued a community alert about the phony city inspector last week. So did cops in suburban Oak Lawn.

Ronald Browning (inset) and surveillance images of the scammer. | Chicago Police Department; Illinois Department of Corrections

On Thursday, prosecutors said Browning, 74, is responsible for the Chicago crimes, which both occurred in the 6400 block of North Sheridan Road around 11 a.m. on December 13. Other charges may be filed.

Sporting a reflective vest, the scammer entered a smoothie store, identified himself as a city worker, and claimed that he needed to be compensated for replacing three carbon monoxide detectors on the building’s roof, officials said.

He pretended to call the store’s manager on his phone, then told a store employee that the manager told him to get payment from the register. After the clerk handed over $80, he walked out the back door.

About ten minutes later, the same man walked into the UPS store next to the smoothie shop and once again demanded payment for replacing carbon monoxide detectors on the roof. The manager initially gave him $250 but then took it back after calling the store’s owner, who realized they were being scammed, prosecutors said.

Surveillance images from the two incidents were included in “multiple bulletins” about other incidents with similar details, leading to Browning’s identification, according to prosecutors.

Judge David Navarro ordered Browning to pay a $2,500 bail deposit to be released from jail.

Browning has been sentenced to prison for felonies more than 40 times since 1982, according to Illinois Department of Corrections records. He has additional felony convictions in Indiana, prosecutors said Friday.

His most recent trip to prison occurred on May 26, when he went to Stateville Correctional Center to serve two 5½-year sentences and one 1-year sentence for theft by deception. After having his punishment reduced by 50% for good behavior plus credit for the time he spent in jail, Browning went home the same day.

Before that, according to IDOC, Browning went to prison for:

  • 5 years for theft from a school or church in 2019
  • 8 years for burglary in 2017
  • another 8 years for burglary in 2017
  • three more 8-year sentences for burglary in 2017
  • 3 years for theft by deception in 2017
  • 2 years for theft in 2016
  • two 2-year sentences for theft by deception in 2016
  • 1 year for possession of a controlled substance in 2016
  • 10 years for aiding or abetting possession of a stolen motor vehicle in 2010
  • another 10 years for aiding or abetting possession of a stolen motor vehicle in 2010
  • yet another 10 years for aiding or abetting possession of a stolen motor vehicle in 2010
  • 10 years for theft by deception in 2004
  • 6 years for theft in 2002
  • 6 more years for another theft in 2002
  • 2 years for theft in 2001
  • 7 years for theft in 1998
  • 3 years for theft in 1997
  • 7 more 3-year sentences for theft in 1997
  • 6 years for possessing a stolen motor vehicle in 1993
  • 5 years for possessing a stolen motor vehicle in 1991
  • 2 years for escape from a penal institution by a felon in 1987
  • 4 years for possessing a stolen motor vehicle in 1987
  • 30 months for theft in 1986
  • 2 years for theft in 1986
  • another 30 months for theft in 1986
  • 30 months for retail theft in 1986
  • 6 years for burglary in 1986
  • 2 years for theft in 1985
  • another 2 years for theft in 1985
  • 2 years for theft in 1982
  • another 2 years for theft in 1982

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com