She may not hold a badge, but one woman proved with persistence and a little luck, even a citizen can crack a cold case.
Andrea Russo said she couldn’t sit back and wait when local authorities told her they would track down a man who allegedly stole thousands from Veterans Helping Veterans.
So she called the media, reported her story and helped nab the thief herself.
On Thursday, deputies with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Florida followed her directions right to the doorstep of James Reardon, 42, and arrested him on warrants of grand theft auto and larceny out of Gila County.
Reardon reportedly stole thousands and a car from the local shelter for homeless veterans before fleeing the area three months ago.
Russo, the facility’s assistant director, said Reardon’s brazen crime outraged her, so she vowed to find him.
“I needed justice and I felt I was not getting it,” she said. “And now I am on my way to getting justice.”
According to Russo, Reardon formed close bonds with employees and veterans at the Payson facility for months before cashing in on that trust. On Dec. 9, Reardon allegedly left Payson in one of the facility’s pickup trucks and nearly $15,000 swindled from one of the veterans.
Reportedly, Reardon had agreed to sell a pickup truck for a veteran. Instead of selling it, however, he allegedly took the title of the truck, re-registered it in his name and sold it at Chapman Auto Center.
With the money from the sale, Reardon left Payson in Veterans Helping Veterans’ Chevy Silverado, Russo said.
Police could find no clues to his whereabouts.
Several weeks later, Russo got a call that opened the case.
A property owner in Fort Lauderdale, Fl., said Reardon had offered to pay cash to rent an apartment for six months.
The property owner told Russo he had felt uneasy about Reardon and done a Web search, when a Payson Roundup article on Reardon’s alleged crime popped up, he called Russo to see if his renter was the same man.
Russo sent the landlord a copy of Reardon’s driver’s license which confirmed his identity.
Russo called Payson Police, but they said they could do nothing without an indictment and warrant for Reardon’s arrest.
“So I waited,” she said. “A month later, the landlord called back and said he thought (Reardon) might be leaving the area.”
Frustrated, Russo went to the Web site of a Valley television station and reported the incident in February.
Three weeks later, an anonymous caller contacted Russo after seeing the story on the Web.
The caller gave Russo Reardon’s phone number and approximate location.
By this time, a Gila County court had issued a secret indictment for Reardon.
When Russo did a Web search of Reardon’s phone number, up popped Craigslist ads in the Cudjoe Key, Fl. area, which also listed Reardon’s address.
With that information, Russo called the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, eventually making contact with the undersheriff.
“I told them a wanted fugitive was down there,” she said.
Using Russo’s information, deputies found Reardon on Thursday evening and arrested him.
It is unclear when Reardon could be extradited back to Gila County, but local authorities and the county attorney know about his arrest, Russo said.
Monroe County officials told Russo that they were so impressed with her detective skills and persistence that she could have a future in law enforcement.
Russo says she was just trying to help her friends at Veterans Helping Veterans.
The facility’s founder, retired Col. Misty Isley, thanked Russo for her work locating Reardon.
“She (Isley) is the reason I was so relentless going after this guy,” Russo said. “He betrayed her.”
Police have not located the truck Reardon reportedly took from Veterans Helping Veterans.