Cops: Troubles piled up for high-income carjack suspect

Holly Fournier, and George Hunter

Wayne Jones earned a six-figure salary, but was desperate for cash as he sank into a financial abyss caused by a gambling problem, according to police.

The 49-year-old steel worker’s Redford home is subject to foreclosure because he owes thousands of dollars in back taxes. Debtors are nipping at his heels. He’s going through a divorce.

He tried to solve his financial problems Thursday by letting it all ride at the MotorCity Casino, police said. After he “lost everything,” his desperation reached a fever pitch when the U.S. Steel employee with no criminal record allegedly carjacked two women at gunpoint in the casino garage and demanded they hand over whatever was in their purses.

The alleged neophyte lawbreaker didn’t get much money, according to police reports obtained by The Detroit News: One woman had $5 cash; the other $26.

“He wasn’t our typical carjacker. He wasn’t a criminal, he didn’t have a criminal history,” said Detroit Police Sgt. Jonathan Parnell of the Commercial Auto Theft Unit that investigated the case.

“He was a guy that was desperate and went to desperate measures.”

Parnell said Jones expressed remorse after his arrest.

“He said ‘I just blew a good job,’ ” Parnell said.

Gambling addictions can quickly veer out of control to the point where those afflicted can lose everything, said Naomi Casement, a counselor at Troy-based Integrated Counseling, which treats problem gamblers.

“Like people with alcoholism can have blackouts, those with gambling addictions can have what we call brownouts,” Casement said. “At that time they could be gambling everything away and not recognize that they’re doing it, going back and forth to the ATM until everything is drained.

“During a brownout, someone could stay in the casino for days at a time; go to their car and sleep for a few hours, then go back to gambling. There’s a high risk of suicide once someone gets to that point.”

There have been several suicides at Detroit casinos since they opened in 1999, including people jumping from the parking garages and Oak Park Police Sgt. Solomon Bell, who on Jan. 26, 2000, lost about $20,000 at a blackjack table in the MotorCity Casino high stakes room and shot himself in the head.

The number of addicted gamblers admitted to Michigan treatment facilities has risen sharply in the past decade, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Problem Gambling Annual Reports. Last year, there were 650 gambling disorder treatments in Michigan, up from 393 in 2003, according to the reports.

Only 1.4 percent of Michigan residents, or about 100,000, have had a gambling problem at some point in their lives, according to the 2013 Survey of Gambling Behaviors in Michigan, conducted by Western Michigan University.

“The survey results indicate that 38,000 Michigan adults currently have a gambling problem, and almost 23,000 of those may have a severe or ‘probable pathological’ problem,” the survey said.

Financial problems

Jones, 49, owes more than $8,000 in back taxes on his Redford Township home, which is subject to foreclosure proceedings, Wayne County tax records show.

He’s filed for bankruptcy three times since 1995; among his debtors through the years was the Internal Revenue Service, to which he owed more than $48,000 in 2010.

Adding to Jones’ mounting trouble is his impending divorce, Parnell said.

Jones earned more than $100,000 a year at U.S. Steel, Parnell said.

“He had a really good job and unfortunately he gambled everything away,” Parnell said.

Jones was arraigned Monday in 36th District Court on two counts each of carjacking, armed robbery, unlawful imprisonment and felony firearm, according to the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. He is being held on a $100,000 bond.

Women ordered into car

Around 5:30 a.m. Thursday, according to the police report, Jones approached a 78-year-old Clinton Township woman and a 68-year-old Sterling Heights woman on the top floor of the casino parking garage.

He allegedly held a gun to the older woman’s side, ordering both women into their red PT Cruiser. When the woman did not move fast enough, Jones shoved and kicked her into the vehicle, police said. She suffered minor injuries to her leg and hip, according to the police report.

The suspect then got into the back seat of the car and gave the 68-year-old woman driving directions, police said. On the way, Jones told both women to hand over their belongings, including cellphones and purses that held $31 cash, charge cards, drivers licenses, checkbooks, house keys and other items.

After driving a short distance, Jones allegedly ordered the women out of the car in “a dark, unknown desolate location” near a field at Schoolcraft and Appoline on the city’s west side, the police report said. Jones then drove away in the stolen PT Cruiser.

The women walked about two miles before meeting a good Samaritan, a man referred to as “Al,” according to the report. The victims told him about the carjacking, and he escorted them to the Detroit Police Second Precinct on Lesure near Schoolcraft and Grand River. The two women did not respond to messages left by The News for comment Tuesday.

Arrested at work

Investigators with the Detroit police commercial auto theft unit were able to identify Jones through his casino player card activity, Parnell said. They observed him on surveillance footage talking with casino security guards, who recalled him mentioning his employment as a foundry worker at U.S. Steel in Ecorse.

Jones was arrested around 3:30 p.m. Saturday at his workplace, Parnell said.

“We went to U.S. Steel, confirmed that he was an employee there and that he had actually just punched in for work,” Parnell said. “He was summoned by his supervisors ... and we took him into custody without incident.”

U.S. Steel officials declined to comment Tuesday.

Later Saturday, officials searching a home in Redford Township seized items including the MotorCity Casino player’s card, according to the police report. The address provided in the report matches one listed in public records as Jones’ residence.

Investigators also were able to recover the stolen PT Cruiser after they observed Jones on casino surveillance footage returning to his own car parked in the garage, Parnell said.

The PT Cruiser was located within blocks of the casino, he said.

The arrest and charges came after an investigation by Detroit police and the Michigan State Police Gaming Division, police said.

Jones is due back in court Sept. 28 for a probable cause conference, Miller said. His preliminary examination is scheduled for Oct. 5.

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Gambling addiction help

The State of Michigan maintains a Gambling Disorder Help-line at (800) 270-7117. Last year, the line received more than 11,000 calls. A statewide network of 56 licensed clinicians, who have special training in treating pathological gamblers and their families, are available to provide counseling services.