Authorities said Saturday that two men who served prison time together in South Carolina were behind a three-week string of Augusta holdups, which they undertook to get money for drugs.
The serial robbery suspects were arrested Friday, and Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength said they are believed responsible for at least 12 business robberies since May 13.
Bryan Wayne Cates, 40, and Christopher Lefever, 33, are both charged with a single count of armed robbery, but more charges are expected, the sheriff said.
The arrests should end a week of investigation that had the FBI and deputies from three jurisdictions searching the area for the men - at least one of whom was seen without a mask on several surveillance images. Investigators also had offered a $5,000 reward for information.
Sheriff Strength credited the cooperation among the FBI and sheriff's offices in Aiken, Columbia and Richmond counties for the arrests.
"We've got a lot of relieved citizens in Richmond County, especially the ones that were potential targets," he said Saturday.
The turning point in the case came Thursday, when Richmond County sheriff's investigators were tipped off to the possible home of one of the suspects in the 5000 block of Wheeler Lake Road.
Deputies on 24-hour surveillance saw a gray vehicle similar to one described by robbery witnesses pull up in front of the house Friday. At about 3 p.m., they arrested Mr. Cates, who lived there with his wife.
Sheriff Strength said authorities believe she had no knowledge of the crime spree.
Mr. Lefever was arrested later that evening at a Comfort Inn in Columbia. Sheriff Strength said Mr. Cates had driven his partner to the motel earlier because Mr. Lefever was nervous about "the heat" that authorities were putting on them.
Mr. Lefever, who the sheriff said was high on drugs when arrested in the motel lobby, had dyed his hair blond and grown his hair and beard to disguise his appearance.
Mr. Lefever is being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center in Columbia until he can be extradited.
Sheriff Strength said the motive for the robberies was money for the crack and powdered cocaine police were told the pair were using. Investigators were told that sometime in the last two weeks, the pair went on a four-day binge with no sleep.
"They were not getting that much (money), and of course, they were spending it on drugs as soon as they got it," the sheriff said.
Investigators found evidence in both the motel and Mr. Cates' home that linked the men to the robberies, authorities said.
Sheriff Strength said the case should take about four weeks to finalize.
Reach Justin Boron at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
String of robberies
May 13: 10:24 p.m., Kangaroo Express store, 3477 Wrightsboro Road, Richmond County
May 15: 2:11 a.m., Sprint Foods store, 500 Flowing Wells Road, Columbia County
May 17: 10:08 p.m., Circle K, 3755 Wheeler Road, Richmond County
May 18: 9:27 a.m., Circle K, 5412 Jefferson Davis Highway, Aiken County
May 18: 7:33 p.m., Walgreens Pharmacy, 3900 Washington Road, Columbia County
May 19: 7:26 p.m., Kangaroo Express, 3434 Wrightsboro Road, Richmond County
May 20: 11:10 a.m., Kangaroo Express, 440 S. Bel Air Road, Columbia County
May 20: 5:45 p.m., Shell gas station, 1237 Gordon Highway, Richmond County
May 24: 10:17 a.m., Regions Bank, 1219 Augusta West Parkway, Richmond County (attempted robbery)
May 26: 12:10 p.m., Jameson Inn, 1062 Claussen Road, Richmond County (attempted robbery)
May 26: 5:51 p.m., Eckerd Pharmacy, 3650 Wheeler Road, Richmond County
May 30: 9:36 a.m., Family Dollar, 3258 Wrightsboro Road, Richmond County
Source: Richmond County Sheriff's Office