Evanston pizza drivers targeted for money, deliveries

Ciara McCarthy and Ina Yang

Four pizza delivery men in Evanston have been robbed on the job since September — three so far this month — and most of the cases remain unsolved.

Delivery men from Sarpino’s Pizzeria and Chicago-based J.B. Alberto’s Pizza have reported being robbed of their belongings and the food they were delivering. In September, a Sarpino’s driver was robbed at knifepoint of two pizzas. Two teenagers have since been arrested in connection with that robbery.

In early November, two men took $150 and a pizza from a J.B. Alberto’s driver. Last week, another J.B. Alberto’s driver was robbed of pizza and his belongings at gunpoint, and three masked men with a knife robbed a Sarpino’s delivery man Tuesday.

This rash of robberies is unusual, J.B. Alberto’s co-owner Tony Troiano said. Sarpino’s manager Vel Antonov agreed, noting that since the Evanston location opened in May 2008, there have been only four robberies — half of which have occurred in the past three months.

The robberies appear to be unrelated, Evanston Police Cmdr. Jay Parrott said. The four cases — the first one dates back to Sept. 8 and the most recent incident occurred Nov. 13 — all vary in several aspects. Victims have been threatened with both guns and knives, the companies with which the victims are affiliated vary each time and the delivery destinations are spread throughout Evanston.

In several of the cases, the suspects mainly wore black clothing and covered their faces. Parrott pointed out that covering one’s face is different from, and often confused with, putting on a mask.

“They’re all different,” said Parrott. “They are similar in nature but no links at this point.”

Troiano noted that deliverers are vulnerable because they work alone and are known to have cash and food, what he called the “trifecta” for thieves.

“The problem with the risk of being a delivery driver is that you have exactly what a thief is looking for,” he said.

Any business that provides a delivery service can be a potential victim. EPD has advised about half a dozen pizza delivery businesses routinely operating in Evanston  to “be cautious and verify their orders” in light of recent events.

Troiano said J.B. Alberto’s is taking aggressive steps to prevent future robberies. The staff is thoroughly screening orders to ensure all calls are tied to legitimate residences. He said in at least one of the recent incidents, the robbers themselves ordered pizza to be delivered to an abandoned apartment, setting the driver up for the crime.

Antonov has also counseled his drivers to be cautious when delivering pizzas. He has advised them to stay in their cars and call the customer if they feel an area is unsafe or poorly lit.

EPD detectives are continuing to work on this case, following up with “some leads,” Parrott said.