Monroe County man jailed for $1 million in thefts from race tracks in several states
May 25, 2012 (The Macon Telegraph - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Entries in a small spiral-bound notebook tell the story.
In writings that start at the back of the journal and, oddly, flow backward, in reverse order, through the pages, Steven G. Sanders spent 16 years documenting the $1 million he is accused of stealing.
Much of it, police say, was swiped from wallets left in RVs and car-hauling trailers that were parked at auto-racing tracks across the country. The loot also included jewelry.
Sanders, 51, of south Monroe County, has been held in Florida jails since his arrest at a drag race in Alachua County, Fla., in March. Monroe County deputies helped serve a search warrant at Sanders' Ridge Crest Drive home March 27.
Authorities also searched Sanders' mother's car in Thomaston.
Officials have recovered about 100 different IDs traced to theft victims, said Daytona Beach Police Det. Scott Frantz.
In the months since Sanders' arrest, Frantz has been getting calls from police in at least seven states who are building cases against Sanders.
Authorities are pursuing charges against him in four Florida counties and five Georgia counties. Thefts also are under investigation in Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, California and Wisconsin, Frantz said.
In Daytona Beach alone, Frantz is working cases linked to Sanders involving 43 victims and crimes dating from 2006 to 2012. Although the crimes are alleged to have occurred at Daytona International Speedway, none were during NASCAR-sanctioned events, he said.
Sanders' victims mostly have been race car drivers and pit crew members. The most notable victim is actor Patrick Dempsey, who stars in TV's "Grey's Anatomy."
Frantz said Dempsey participates in Grand American races, some of which are held in Daytona Beach. Authorities found Dempsey's racing ID, used to provide access to pit areas and garages, while searching for evidence at Sanders' home and in his mother's car.
Martha Sanders, of Thomaston, allegedly moved evidence from her son's home. She has not been charged with a crime, Frantz said.
Reached by phone Friday, Martha Sanders said, "I just can't talk about it. It's just no reason."
Dan Harding, an Ohio man whose race team was at the Daytona track in January, left his wallet with $350 and credit cards inside it in his travel trailer. When he returned to the trailer later, the wallet was gone.
"I'm glad they got him. He caused a lot of people a lot of grief," Harding, 54, said by phone Friday. "I don't wish him the best."
Frantz compared his six-year search for Sanders to a "catch me if you can movie."
It began more than half a decade ago when Frantz was a motorcycle cop on duty at Daytona International Speedway.
There, he fielded theft reports from people who'd had things stolen. Two years later, after Frantz became a detective, he happened upon surveillance footage of a man using pilfered credit cards to buy gift cards at several stores.
Frantz said he has since learned that the man was Sanders.
"We had him on video and knew what he looked like, but we didn't have his name," Frantz said.
On March 8, a fellow Daytona cop was at the Gator Nationals drag race in Gainesville, Fla., when Sanders was arrested on a burglary charge.
Someone shooting video on a cellphone from a motorhome captured Sanders sneaking into a motorhome parked nearby.
In the video, posted on YouTube, the man making the video confronted Sanders, who claimed he'd just found a cell phone outside and was trying to return it to its owner. But that was a ruse Sanders has allegedly used before, Frantz said.
Unidentified fans at the race dished out "trackside justice" on Sanders before police collared him on a burglary charge, Frantz said. A mugshot from the Alachua County jail shows Sanders with a black eye in a neck brace.
Sanders, at the time, was also charged with resisting arrest because he gave authorities a fake name. He was later identified through fingerprints, Frantz said.
Images from the YouTube video seemed to match the person in surveillance video Frantz had of the man using stolen credit cards to go on gift-card-buying sprees.
In each caper, Sanders wore a baseball cap and dark glasses, Frantz said.
As the investigation continued, police learned that Sanders had been stealing from RVs and car-hauling trailers that had been left unlocked at raceways. Frantz explained that because several people sometimes have access to the vehicles at races, it is not uncommon for them to be left unlocked.
Authorities say Sanders typically took wallets, fancy watches, money clips, cash and anything he could easily put in his pocket. Sanders used credit cards to buy gift cards because credit cardholders can cancel their cards after they learn they've been stolen. He also bought electronics and even food, police say. The gift cards were for stores, including Walmart, Target, Best Buy and Dillard's, Frantz said.
When Monroe County deputies, along with Frantz and other investigators, searched Sanders' home, they found $130,000 in unused gift cards. They also found a gift card Sanders had bought in Morrow using a gift card purchased with a stolen credit card in Daytona Beach, Frantz said.
Authorities also seized Sam's Club membership cards marked with the date they were stolen.
Sanders apparently even kept receipts.
"He made the case for us," Frantz said.
Included in Sanders' journal entries are details of his arrest in 1999 in Joliet, Ill., home of the Chicagoland Speedway and drag racing's Route 66 Raceway.
Sanders was caught there on a burglary charge stemming from a racetrack incident. He was convicted and sentenced to pay a minor fine, but didn't serve any time in jail. He wrote that he paid $5,000 in legal fees, Frantz said.
In the months since Sanders' arrest, he's been transferred to the Volusia County Division of Corrections where he's being held on $87,000 bond.
He can't be released without being transferred to Georgia for charges for which he hasn't been granted a bond, according to the jail.
Frantz describes Sanders as "one of the strangest people" he's ever encountered. For example, Sanders paid $9,000 to bail himself out of the Alachua County jail knowing that he wouldn't be released before being booked into the Volusia jail where he has a higher bond.
Prior to his arrest, Sanders worked as a traveling salesman for an Ohio Company that sells robotic arms used by doctors, Frantz said.
His home and car are paid for. His bank account and investment portfolio have higher-than-average balances, Frantz said.
"He didn't have an income to support those," the detective said. "It didn't match his salary."
Sanders' house, built in 1992, sits on a one-acre tract on Ridge Crest Drive, just east of Interstate 75, between Pate Road and the Brickyard at Riverside golf course.
Sanders' wife of 23 years, Renee, who works at a securities firm in Macon, declined to answer questions about the allegations against her husband. She referred questions to her attorney, who could not be reached for comment Friday.
Investigators say there is no evidence that Renee H. Sanders was involved in the misdeeds her husband is accused of.
Her lawyer, Laura Hogue, said, "It seems as if he led two entirely separate lives and was able to pull it off because he was a traveling salesman. ... The classic double life."
Hogue said that if the accusations prove true, Renee Sanders has been "unthinkably deceived."
Hogue said Renee Sanders, 53, has been "brave and resilient" in the wake of her husband's arrest.
"She's had some rough days," Hogue said. "We've been as open and tried to help (investigators) as much as we can."
Steven Sanders, meanwhile, has his own lawyer and isn't talking to police.
He has, however, spoken to relatives on the phone from jail.
And the police have listened in.
Det. Frantz has monitored Sanders' calls since he's been locked up.
In some conversations, Sanders has told people that his arrest "is a misunderstanding," Frantz said.
"I don't believe he ever thought he'd get caught."
To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398. To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.
___ (c)2012 The Macon Telegraph (Macon, Ga.) Visit The Macon Telegraph (Macon,
Ga.) at www.macon.com Distributed by MCT Information Services
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