Supposed basketball team suspect in on-campus thefts

An iPhone and iPod were allegedly stolen by team members.

Branden Largent

Two University of Minnesota students had electronics stolen after they were approached for a donation this weekend.

Police suspect a group of men asking for donations to help a basketball team is responsible for the incidents in and around Moos Tower.

Catherine Day was studying in the basement of Moos Saturday when a man and three others — who she said “looked like high schoolers” — asked her to donate to their basketball program.

The man placed a picture of a basketball team on the table, blocking the view of her iPhone, which was laying on the other side of the table.

When Day told the man she didn’t have any cash to donate, he and his companions left without approaching anyone else in the basement, she said.

About an hour later, Day turned to check her phone for messages but couldn’t find it. She searched the area and then rushed back to her residence hall. Day said she realized the man probably stole her phone while she was looking at the picture of the basketball team.

“I knew that it had to be him because I wasn’t approached by anyone else,” she said.

Lindsay Wilfong was studying near the Outside In restaurant in the Phillips-Wangensteen Building on Sunday afternoon when a man approached her with a similar request for donations.

After Wilfong declined, the man walked away. She said at least four other men were asking other people at the tables around her for donations as well.

Wilfong noticed her iPod was missing an hour later when she was switching tables to plug in her laptop.

“I just realized that he must’ve taken it when he walked by,” she said.

Her friends said the same group has approached them before in Coffman Union’s Starbucks and other Starbucks locations on campus, Wilfong said.

Day said she has been asked to make a similar donation to a basketball team last semester while walking on Washington Avenue. Day’s roommates and other students from her residence hall said they have also seen people asking for basketball team donations on campus before but didn’t have items stolen from them.

“I don’t know if he just saw the opportunity and went for it or if this was a regular occurrence,” Day said.

But University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said “it’s rare that a ploy like this is involved” in thefts.

Miner said thefts on campus mostly happen when victims leave valuables unattended while studying.

“It’s fairly common to have folks going around trying to do fundraising, and some have good intentions — some do not, of course,” he said.

University police will review footage from one of the Department of Central Security‘s cameras in the basement of the Moos Tower to try identifying the group that approached Day.