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Alleged safecrackers were duped, one whose charges dropped says


     Safecracking and larceny charges have been dropped against a Tabor City man who says both he and the woman charged with him were victims of a convincing scam.

     Charges against Winford Earl Livingston were dismissed Thursday when the state declined to prosecute, Clerk of Court Jess Hill confirmed Tuesday.

     A court hearing for Deborah Lynn Soles was scheduled for later this week.

     Both Livingston, 63, of Mill Branch Church Road, Tabor City; and Soles, 26, of Hilburn Road, Whiteville; were charged in an April 5 incident at the Sidney Service Mart, a warrant for Soles and criminal summons for Livingston obtained by Det. B.J. Fowler of the Columbus County Sheriff’s Office said.

     Both were accused of breaking into a store safe and taking $3,205.50, the court documents said.

     That didn’t begin to tell the whole story, Livingston said.

‘Boss’ on the phone

     Livingston is a regular at the store on US 701 in Sidney, often drinking coffee and sharing stories with others who frequent the convenience store and gas outlet.

     Soles, he said, was a new employee, barely two weeks on the job, and had apparently met one of the owners just once before the morning of April 5.

     Soles, Livingston recalled Tuesday, was convinced a man who called the store was that boss because his accent was a match and because he knew details about the store only an insider could.

     “He told her to get some money to take to him,” Livingston said. “He told her the code to the safe, but it didn’t work.”

     The man on the phone knew there was a fire extinguisher above the safe, and told Soles to use it to knock the keypad lock off. She did so, but the door refused to open.

     Her efforts on the front of the safe proved fruitless, and the caller told her to use the fire extinguisher on the back of the safe, to “bash it in,” Livingston said.

     “I told her ‘No, that extinguisher’s going to explode and get us both killed,’” Livingston said. “I told him I had an axe in my truck. He said to get it.”

     With the axe, and Livingston’s help, the safe was breached, the money taken, though the amount was not the same as the listed in the warrant and summons, Livingston said.

     “We were on the way taking the money to him,” Livingston said. It was after Livingston and Soles had left the store that the caller sent an address. It was the Marathon convenience store on US 701 at the state line, just past Tabor City.

     “I told her to turn around,” Livingston said. “I knew right then it was a scam.”

     They returned to the store, with the money. Despite his success in convincing a store worker and patron to break into the safe, the caller never got a dime.

     Both Livingston and Soles told sheriff’s deputies their story, and Soles went back to work, though Livingston said she was soon fired.

     For more on this story see today’s Tabor-Loris Tribune in print and online.