An armed robbery suspect told police after his arrest Friday that he was uneasy about the job his driver wanted him to pull. He walked up to a Wauwatosa Subway restaurant, turned around and went back and told his accomplice there were cops right across the street, he said.
It was a bluff, a lie to get out of pulling the crime, he said. But the driver called him on it, told him he was being soft and threatened to leave him behind if he didn't do the robbery.
So he did, he admitted, brandishing a gun at two frightened employees and robbing them of the store's cash.
The trouble for him was, he was right about the cops. There were two Wauwatosa police detectives watching his every move.
Mario Gene Phillips, 38, of West Allis, the gunman, and Joseph Alan Zupan, 28, of Jackson, the driver, were charged Wednesday in Milwaukee County Circuit Court with armed robbery with threat of force.
Each man faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted, and much leniency is unlikely. Both men were charged as habitual criminals.
Suspect identified from multiple holdups
According to police reports, Zupan was a suspect in a string of armed robberies, including knocking over liquor stores in South Milwaukee and West Allis in June and two recent robberies of the same restaurant in Wauwatosa.
The sandwich shop at 10919 Blue Mound Rd. had been hit on June 20 and again on July 3.
West Allis police had positively identified Zupan as the driver of a distinctive white Cadillac seen on June 8 casing Town Beer & Liquor, 903 S. 84 St., which had been robbed two days before.
The same car was described by a witness when BJ’s Liquor in South Milwaukee was robbed on June 15 and seen again in video surveillance footage near the Jimmy John's on June 20.
Zupan was stopped June 21 in Brookfield for brandishing a gun in a road rage incident, still driving the Cadillac. Then, on July 4, he was pulled over for a traffic violation in Jackson. He had traded his Cadillac for a red Toyota Camry.
Detectives follow as suspects case businesses
At about 8:30 p.m. Friday, two Wauwatosa detectives spotted the Camry near North Mayfair Road and West Capitol Drive with two men in it, the driver matching Zupan's description.
They followed as the two circled the and then moved on to case the Jimmy John’s at 12460 W. Capitol in Brookfield.
The suspects then drove south to the business district around West North Avenue and North 124th Street. As detectives watched, they repeatedly cruised through parking lots and alleys, stopping now and then. They seemed to be zeroing in on the .
It was a decidedly poor choice. Detectives said the all-glass front of the restaurant provided "a panoramic view" of the interior.
Zupan pulled into the alley, just out of sight, and Phillips soon appeared, walking toward the front of the Subway. But, as he would later say, he merely looked around and then returned to the alley.
Crime committed in plain view
The two then drove off, but the detectives decided to wait. They had a hunch the men would be back. They donned ballistic vests. One of them armed himself with a rifle. They called in more police squads.
Sure enough, a few minutes later the Camry reappeared and again entered the alley. Phillips approached the restaurant again, this time going to the back door, wearing a ski mask and holding a gun.
The holdup went down fast, too fast for the detectives to intervene. As they moved in, they clearly saw Phillips inside, waving his gun at two employees, who handed him something. Then he started for the back door.
The two detectives met him there with guns drawn. Zupan, meanwhile, had seen that the jig was up and slipped out of the alley in the Camry, unseen.
Phillips pulled off his mask, threw down his gun and the stolen cash, and looked for an escape route. There wasn't any. Two more detectives arrived at just the moment to cut him off.
Phillips had to be wrestled to the ground, while the rifle-armed detective maintained "lethal cover."
When he finally stopped struggling, Phillips whined about facing prison, and asked, “How much time am I looking at? Twenty years?”
Host of officers converges on getaway driver
Meanwhile, a fifth detective had spotted the red Camry heading into Elm Grove on Wrayburn Road. A patrol officer located him, got on his tail, and called for assistance.
Soon, five Wauwatosa squads plus more from Elm Grove, Waukesha County and Brookfield were tailing Zupan. They let him pass through Elm Grove's village district, not wanting to make a high-risk stop there.
When Zupan passed Sunnyslope Road on Watertown Plank, the posse pounced, and he was taken without resistance.
Phillips, who had resisted, soon became quite cooperative and spilled his soul, telling officers every detail of the planning of the robbery, saying it was Zupan's mask and gun – a BB gun, as it proved to be – and claiming he had never been involved in a robbery before.
Zupan, he said, had thrown a big party for him and some girlfriends, and then "guilt-tripped" him into pulling this one to help pay for it.
A less-than cooperative subject
Zupan, on the other hand, having surrendered meekly, became extremely uncooperative at the police station, pounding on his holding cell door and shouting that he was in withdrawal pain, was coughing up blood and needed to go to the hospital immediately.
No blood was found in the cell, though, and Zupan appeared perfectly healthy to officers. Still he continued to pound and scream and demand hospitalization until Fire Department paramedics were called to examine him. They found nothing wrong with him, either, and Zupan was told to quiet down so he could be booked.
At that, he slammed his fist into his cell wall hard enough to break a bone, chortling, “Now I get to go to the hospital and get my pain med’s, I told you I would get to the hospital!”
Finally, Zupan claimed the police had nothing on him and that “I will be out and if they hold me my family will sell all their houses and businesses for my bail,” then threatened that he would kill every officer involved with "Yellow Jackets" and "You will never hear it coming."
At that, Wauwatosa police decided to wash their hands of Zupan and ordered him sent from the hospital directly to the County Jail for booking (hence, they could not provide a mug shot).
Phillips, despite his claims that he was an unwilling participant and a first-timer, was found to have four prior felony convictions and was tabbed as a habitual criminal.
Zupan likewise has a lengthy record including felony burglary and bail-jumping, so he was likewise labeled a repeat offender.
If convictions are gained, those "charge modifiers" are considered in the District Attorney's request and the judge's decision on sentencing.