In 2016, Michigan couple Stephanie Harvell and Mitchell Arnswald were on top of the world.
The pair, then in their mid-20s, and supposedly behind on rent, was bracing for an eviction notice when they scratched a lottery ticket and won $500,000.
Roughly three years later, the jackpot winners found themselves in handcuffs, suspected by police as the bandits behind at least a dozen home invasion robberies in five different counties, according to officials.
At around 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 29, Bay County Sheriff’s Department responded to reports of a break-in in Merritt Township, about 110 miles northwest of Detroit. En route, they spotted a vehicle in a department store parking lot that matched a witness description of the suspects’ vehicle, sheriff Troy Cunningham told Oxygen.com.
They conducted a traffic stop and arrested Harvell, 28, and Arnswald, 29, after discovering a safe that linked them to the robbery. Police also found crowbars and rubber gloves in their Ford Explorer. They were arrested without incident.
“So, obviously, they were trying to open up the safe or planning to do some more home invasions,” Cunningham said. “It was a great collaborative effort from a lot of law enforcement agencies.”
Harvell and Arnswald were charged with burglary and possession of burglary tools. Police suspect the pair is connected to a flurry of other robberies in the region, including Bay, Arenac, Midland, Tuscola and Saginaw Counties.
“I think there will be more charges coming, but we’re just trying to figure out everything,” Cunningham added.
After police executed a search warrant at the couple’s Bangor Township home, other items, suspected to be stolen, connected Harvel and Arnswald to as many as a dozen other home invasions. The Bay County sheriff said that Harvell and Arnswald were primarily targeting elderly people.
“They were doing daytime home invasions, nobody was home,” the sheriff said.
In 2016, when the couple cashed in on half a million dollars in winnings from a Michigan Lottery Hot Jackpot scratch ticket, Harvell and Arnswald were barely scraping by.
“I cried like a baby when I saw what I’d won,” Harvell told Michigan Lottery Connect at the time.
“We both work really hard, and it’s been tough to support our family,” she added. “We recently lost a car and the day I scratched off this ticket we got an eviction notice.”
They told the media they planned to purchase a new house and car, and that they hoped to put their two daughters through college with the winnings. Harvell and Arnswald had reportedly purchased the lottery ticket from a gas station.
Cunningham said that the multiple thefts had unnerved locals, who were fearful of leaving their homes unattended.
“The community started getting, rightfully so, a little bit on edge,” Cunningham explained.
“People were more afraid to leave their house to go camping, or leave for the weekend,” he said. “They were scared they were going to come home and find out they were victims of a home invasion.”
Cunningham suspected drug addiction may have driven the couple to carry out so many burglaries.
“The lottery pays — crime doesn’t,” he added.
The couple is currently in custody at the Bay County Jail, according to online court records. They’re each being held on a $50,000 bond, according to The Associated Press.
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