By Bob Uphues
When Cicero resident Gregory G. Cook went out looking for Christmas presents for his family members, according to Riverside police, he didn't go to the store — not at first anyway.
Rather, police say, Cook broke into two homes in Riverside and stole merchandise and credit cards. He reportedly used the credit cards to buy some items, including a ceiling fan for his own bedroom. Some items, allegedly, he returned to the stores where they were purchased and got different items.
And some items, according to police, he simply rewrapped, slapped a tag with "From Greg" on them and put them under his own tree.
On Wednesday evening, following a 10-hour stakeout, Riverside and Cicero police took Cook, 42, into custody at his apartment in the 5300 block of West 35th Street in Cicero. He has been charged with two counts of residential burglary and appeared in bond court Friday morning.
"This is the first time in my 27 years in law enforcement that I have ever come across a case in which a burglary suspect had stolen property from a home, repackaged [and] rewrapped with the intent to deliver them as new Christmas gifts to family and friends," said Riverside Police Chief Thomas Weitzel.
According to Weitzel, Cook has an extensive criminal history, including prior eight convictions for burglary. He was last convicted of burglary in Peoria in 2006 and was sentenced to 10 years in state prison. He was paroled from Graham Correctional Center in downstate Hillsboro in April 2011. He is also a self-admitted Hell Bound Motorcycle Club gang member, according to police.
Weitzel said he has had three officers working continuously on the case following the report of one burglary on Dec. 6 in the 700 block of Selborne Road and one on Dec. 12 in the 200 block of Bartram Road. In each burglary, a rear door was forced open to gain entry.
On Dec. 13, police issued a photograph and description of a suspect obtained through surveillance camera video from a store where a credit card stolen from one of the homes was used.
But a break in the case came when Cook reportedly returned a stolen item to the Victoria's Secret store in Lombard and exchanged it for another item. One of Cook's alleged victims had gone to every area Victoria's Secret store to alert them in case anyone tried to return the stolen items. If someone tried to return the item, the victim told the store, call police.
Because the item had been flagged by store personnel, police were able to get information on the man who returned it. A search of computer records provided police with Cook's last mug shot and driver's license photo, which appeared to match the man shown in the surveillance camera footage. His driver's license gave police a possible address in Cicero.
Two undercover Riverside police officers went to that address at 6 a.m. on Wednesday and stayed there until Cook drove up, got out of his vehicle and walked to his residence. With the assistance of Cicero police, they were able to take Cook into custody with incident.
Inside Cook's apartment, police reportedly found several items that had been stolen from the Riverside homes, along with items purchased with the stolen credit cards. One of those items was a ceiling fan, purchased at a local Home Depot, which had already been installed in Cook's bedroom.
Police were able to return some of the stolen merchandise to the Riverside families in time to give them as Christmas gifts, as intended.