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Tony White loves the police. In his free time, the 39-year-old Minneapolis native dresses in T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with logos from various law enforcement agencies. He drives retired squad cars, mostly Ford Crown Victorias, but occasionally Chevrolet Caprices or Ford Mustangs. Sometimes these vehicles are adorned with license plates indicating that White is a Minnesota state trooper or a Washington County sheriff's deputy.
White has an encyclopedic knowledge of police cars and equipment. He knows what kind of vehicle every police department in the state of Minnesota drives and with what type of equipment they're outfitted. He can distinguish a '98 Crown Victoria from a '99 simply by the design of the car's grille, and he can tell you the difference between an MX StrikeForce Lightbar and a Code 3 LED X 2100 Lightbar.
Sometimes White's behavior leads people to believe that he is a cop. He always backs into parking spots, just in case a speedy departure is required, and sometimes cruises down the highway with lights and siren activated. When people mistake White for an officer, he doesn't correct their misperception.
"He would make a wonderful officer," claims White's friend and business associate Marvin Leonard, who has known him for two decades. "If somebody's in trouble, if there's an accident on the highway, he stops and helps. He's directed traffic when there's major wrecks and stuff. He's had a lot of officers thank him for being so helpful."
"He wants to be a cop, really," says his 69-year-old father, John White. "He wants to be a policeman and this is his way of showing it."
Unfortunately, Tony White is not, and never has been, a police officer. He is, in fact, a criminal who has a long history of being arrested by the police officers he so admires. His rap sheet shows 16 convictions in Minnesota and Wisconsin over the past 15 years, almost exclusively for theft. In the past year alone White has been charged with seven different felonies. One reason he has been so spectacularly unsuccessful as a thief is that he deals almost exclusively in police cars and equipment. He incessantly purchases, sells, and steals anything remotely associated with law enforcement, from Fridley police patches to fully functioning ambulances. Most recently he was convicted of pilfering a brand-new St. Paul squad car. White has been permanently banned from state government auctions for passing bad checks. Practically every police department in the state has encountered him over the years.
White also possesses a driving record that suggests he watched a few too many episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard growing up in Minneapolis and Minnetonka. In Hennepin County alone he has been cited 25 times since 1987 for driving without a valid license. On numerous occasions he has engaged in high-speed, long-distance car chases with the police. In 1999 White led officers on a roughly 60-mile pursuit through Cass and Aitkin counties, reaching speeds in excess of 120 miles per hour. The chase ended only when his car was knocked from the road and flipped over.
"I classify him as a con man," says St. Paul Sgt. Tom Bergren, who recently investigated White for auto theft. "The only difference between him and other con people that I deal with is that he has a fixation on police and police equipment. He's obsessed with it. He lives for this, absolutely lives for it--and he loves it."
For now, White can't drive his beloved squad cars. He's in prison. It's safe to say the police do not return Tony White's love.
One evening in early June, Fred Bowen arrived at his home alongside Highway 10 in Arden Hills to discover a black Crown Victoria parked in his front yard. That in itself was not unusual. Since February Bowen had operated a taxicab and courier service, and there were often vans and cars shoehorned into every free inch of space in his yard.
What stood out about this particular vehicle, however, was that it had license plates indicating that it belonged to a Minnesota state trooper. The car was also equipped with a partition cage dividing the front and back seats, and a push bar to protect the grille and headlights in case of a collision. "I'm thinking, What the hell is that unmarked squad car doing in my front yard?" Bowen recalls from his kitchen on a recent Saturday, smoking a steady stream of both Marlboro and Camel cigarettes.
When the driver of the Crown Victoria emerged from the vehicle, his appearance did little to put Bowen at ease. The man was wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap emblazoned with the logo of the FBI. The stranger was Tony White. He wanted to know if Bowen might be interested in purchasing some retired police vehicles. At the time, White's unannounced visit seemed fortuitous. Business at Bowen's taxi and courier service was exploding, and he was in need of more cars.
Despite a few troubling aspects to White's behavior--like the state trooper tags adorning the Crown Victoria--Bowen began doing business with him. White would often buy cars directly from police departments. He seemed to know every police chief from Fairmont to Thief River Falls. "Every time he bought a car he talked them out of a police patch or a shirt," Bowen says. "He was a very personable guy. All the cops loved him."