Mag Mile robbery crew stole money from victims’ banking apps, prosecutors say

Lamar Smith (Chicago Police Department, Gruznov)

CHICAGO — Robbery charges have been filed against a Chicago man who allegedly worked with accomplices to rob victims on the Magnificent Mile.

But these weren’t traditional stick-em-up robberies. Instead, prosecutors say, Lamar Smith worked with one or two other men to steal money from victims’ phones while pretending to work for a charity.

Chicago police warned about similar crimes on the Mag Mile and Lakeview in January. Men who claimed to be raising money for a children’s charity or “bucket boys” took control of victims’ phones to transfer a small donation via banking apps, but they actually transferred far more money.

CPD specifically warned that the scam was operating outside the Nike Store, 669 North Michigan. And, perhaps coincidentally, that’s exactly where Lamar Smith’s crew worked, officials claim.

In one case, a 20-year-old Gold Coast resident told police that two men took his phone outside the Nike Store on March 20. Smith blocked the victim from taking his phone back while an accomplice transferred $500 from the victim’s Chase bank account, a CPD report said.

At the same location on April 6, three men targeted a 37-year-old Uptown man. He told the police he was walking when three men asked him for donations. He agreed to transfer $5 to their cause.

When he opened his Bank of America app, one of the men took his phone, while Smith and the third robber blocked the victim and slapped his hands as he tried to get the device back, according to officials. The crew got into a car and left after sucking $2,000 from the man’s account, according to a CPD report.

The second victim told police that he continued to receive text messages from the robbers, “taunting” him for being suckered.

Both victims allegedly identified Smith as one of the robbers in photo line-ups.

Police arrested Smith earlier this month while patrolling the Magnificent Mile. They said they saw him standing outside the Nike Store while carrying a “bucket boys” charity flyer.

Prosecutors asked Judge William Fahy to detain Smith, who is charged with two counts of robbery. The judge rejected their petition and sent Smith home on an ankle monitor instead.

Smith’s felony background includes armed robbery and possessing a stolen motor vehicle cases in 2007 and a 2014 aggravated battery at the Belmont CTA station in Lakeview, according to court records. Chicago police have arrested him for unlawful charity solicitation in 2017, 2018, and 2021. Prosecutors dropped the charges every time. He served 30 days for impersonating a charitable organization in 2014.

A couple of months ago, police warned about similar robberies outside nightclubs in the Gold Coast. In February, DePaul University warned its community that three people affiliated with the school had recently had their electronic payment apps hijacked by street performers around its Loop campus. 

Later in February, prosecutors charged 37-year-old James Lyons with theft for allegedly operating a similar scam in Wrigleyville.

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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