NEWARK—Authorities had a detailed record of the whereabouts of Daniel “Tokyo” when they arrested him for a long series of home break-ins up and down the East Coast—his cell phone kept a detailed log of his location as he and Anthony Hanks went on a years-long crime spree.
On Monday, the two men were convicted in federal court of interstate transportation of stolen property and conspiracy, following a three-week trial before U.S. District Judge William Martini in Newark. The jury deliberated less than two days before returning the verdicts.
Gatson, 43, of North Bergen, and Hanks, 36, of Brooklyn, were charged in 2013 with burglarizing 27 homes from New Jersey to Georgia—taking $3.4 million in jewelry, watches, cash and other valuables, before they were caught by the FBI and members of a special task force of county and local police agencies that had been set up to track them down.
Four others charged in the case had pleaded guilty earlier and testified against the pair.
According to court filings, Gatson allegedly began the crime spree just five days after he was released from state prison, following a 10-year term for breaking into the Englewood Cliffs home of former NBA star Patrick Ewing and stealing more than $300,000 worth of luxury cars, fur coats and jewelry—including a Mercedes-Benz, a Lincoln Navigator and two Piaget watches.
The crew targeted high-income homes in places such as Colts Neck, Bernardsville and Alpine, typically cutting phone lines and alarm wires on the exterior of a home before breaking in and ransacking the place, the authorities said.
They were ultimately caught because Gatson carried his cell phone with him, authorities said. The U.S. Attorney’s office revealed in court filings that phone records obtained after Gatson became a leading suspect provided an electronic map of his footprints, giving the task force a trail that coincided exactly with dozens of major home break-ins reported to police.
U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman, in court briefs, said the ring “used cell phones during each and every burglary—including ‘open line calls,’ where one co-conspirator inside the home kept in constant contact with the getaway driver outside while the burglary occurred.
All cellphones constantly search for a signal, even when no calls are being made, and continually re-scan several times a minute, always seeking the closest cellphone towers that will provide the strongest signal. The function cannot be turned off while the phone is getting a wireless signal. Smart phones also contain a GPS chip that identifies exactly where it is at all times.
The technology has led to a number of arrests nationwide. Last week, Eliezer Medina of Lancaster, Pa., was sentenced in federal court in Newark to two and a half years in prison for his role in a string of burglaries throughout northern and southern New Jersey that netted approximately $625,000. Authorities said it was his cell phone that betrayed him, after phone records indicated Medina’s mobile phone was in the vicinity when the stores in Paramus and Pennsauken were hit.
Gatson had argued the cellphone records constituted unlawful search and seizure, violating his constitutional rights.
He and Hanks both face up to 10 years in prison when they are scheduled to be sentenced in February.