BY MATT TROUTMAN email@example.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — BENZONIA — A Beulah man faces a felony conspiracy charge for his part in a staged robbery at a Benzonia gas station, authorities said.
Marshall Kelly Miller, 41, was arrested Tuesday and is listed as a co-defendant in 85th District Court with Darek Alan Eberhard, 39, of Benzonia, the gas station clerk who said he was robbed by an unknown assailant after he closed the Benzonia Timberline Shell Station on July 5.
Benzie County sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Troy Lamerson said Eberhard appeared shaken and had a large “goose egg” injury on his forehead when he told deputies that a man struck him twice, told him to “get on the ground” and stole the gas station’s night deposit and checks.
“His story was believable at the time, especially with an apparent injury on his forehead,” he said.
But investigators soon began to doubt the story — Eberhard worked alone on the July 4th holiday weekend, one of the busiest times of year. Lamerson said internal store cameras captured a glimpse of the suspect’s SUV, and it was familiar to investigators.
“The vehicle was previously owned by one of the deputies at the sheriff’s department,” Lamerson said.
Police reports state the deputy sold the 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe to a local used car dealership, where it was purchased by Miller, who is known locally as “Peanut” and reported to be a regular customer at the gas station. Authorities searched Miller’s Homestead Road residence on July 12.
“Some evidence received executing the search warrant and interviews with Marshall Miller determined Darek Eberhard’s role in the robbery,” Lamerson said. “(Eberhard) was arrested later that night ... at Timberline.”
Both suspects admitted Miller sold marijuana to Eberhard in the past. Lamerson said drugs were “somewhat” involved in the crime and a Traverse Narcotics Team investigation is ongoing. TNT Detective Lt. Daniel King said the regional drug unit helped execute the search.
Lamerson said investigators believe the suspects saw an “opportunity” when Timberline’s second clerk called off work on July 5 and left Eberhard alone with a large night deposit. About $2,800 in cash and $350 in checks were stolen, but authorities were only able to recover $130.
“Both suspects have confessed to an extent, but more so pointing the finger at each other,” Lamerson said.
Lamerson said Eberhard told detectives he purposely hit his head on his own vehicle to corroborate the bogus story he was struck and robbed by a black male who drove an SUV.
“While Mr. Miller was reporting a false crime, he actually gave an accurate description of the person who committed the crime with him,” he said.
Eberhard is charged with embezzlement, conspiracy to commit embezzlement and false report of a felony. Miller is charged with conspiracy to commit embezzlement and could face life imprisonment with a habitual offender charge — he has four felony convictions.