EXCLUSIVE: A founder of the original “James Bond Gang” burglary ring, which terrorized homeowners in North Jersey and elsewhere for years, was briefly back behind bars this weekend — for failing to pay child support.
The last time many had seen Terence Lawton, he was testifying in federal court in Newark four year ago against his Bong gang co-founder, David Kirkland, in exchange for immunity from prosecution in a new round of burglaries.
Kirkland was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in federal prison.
Lawton, now 44, was grabbed in October 2012 and paid up the $2,026 that he owed at the time, records show.
This time the arrears were $1,264. Lawton was seized yesterday and released after paying up soon after, records show.
Lawton owned a detailing shop in Englewood in the mid-80s when he hooked up with Teaneck High School buddy Kirkland. It was at the shop where the FBI said Lawton created the car responsible for the burglary crew’s nickname.
It was a tricked-out BMW with a secret drawer housed on the dashboard’s passenger side, just beneath where the airbag would be. It also had a cluster of halogens that emerged from behind a hinged rear license plate and tailpipe able to spurt grease.
One night, several original Bond members were being chased by Emerson police in Hackensack. As Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino (then an Emerson officer) recalls, the rear license plate flipped down, revealing a quartet of halogen lights that blinded him and his partner. The thieves got away.
Even when they were stopped near burglary scenes, the crew could fool police. Sometimes the booty was right there in the dashboard as officers searched the vehicle. Only by pressing a series of console buttons could you pop the sliding drawer open.
Before long, the crew was brazen enough to keep a lawyer on retainer and successful enough to have its own exclusive jewelry salesman in Manhattan’s diamond district.
Pricey homes in Paramus, Englewood Cliffs and elsewhere yielded the gang an average of $30,000 in cash and valuables during what investigators said were nearly 500 break-ins.
Morris, Middlesex and Monmouth counties offered targets, as well, as did Rockland and Westchester. Victims included then-Westchester District Attorney Jeanine Piro.
The original Bond Gang took vacations to Delaware, Maryland and Florida. But they still worked, committing burglaries in each state, said James Kallstrom, who then was an assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York office.
In just about every case, the crew either followed well-to-do jewelry buyers home or cased neighborhoods in leased luxury cars. It’s the same pattern followed by a second wave of Bond gang members in the 1990s.
A lookout not only watched the neighborhood: He monitored police scanner frequencies and kept in contact with the others via cellphones cloned with stolen numbers.
Lawton, Kirkland and company kicked, shouldered or butted in front doors and ripped out burglar alarms. While one of them made a beeline for the master bedroom, the other opened a back door for a quick exit.
“Even if an alarm went off, they were out of there before the alarm company called the police,” said former Old Tappan Police Chief William Vanderbeek.
Responding officers often found alarm speakers on the floor or dangling from ceiling vents. Sometimes the bandits removed small safes, then later smashed them open and cleaned them out before dumping them on the side of the road or in the Hudson.
They then took the booty across the river, where it went for 20 cents on the dollar, according to a Diamond District dealer who flipped for the government. The dealer said he often reset some of the jewelry for the gang, so they could give their wives and girlfriends presents.
Lawton and company confounded Bergen County police. Different towns meant different jurisdictions.
During a meeting with the FBI to discuss preparations for the 1994 World Cup at Giants Stadium, several Bergen detectives expressed anger at their inability to make a case big enough to produce hard time.
“These guys would get pinched one at a time, and be right back on the street, flaunting the fruits of their labor,” a senior FBI agent told me more than a dozen years ago.
That agent, Ed Petersen, came up with the winning gambit.
Since the group transported stolen goods across state lines, Petersen said, why not pursue federal convictions under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute (better known as RICO)?
Before long, detectives from throughout Bergen County were gathering and comparing intelligence on break-ins in their towns, while the feds built a case that would put the James Bond Gang out of business — at least temporarily.
They had little trouble rounding up crew members — except for the slippery Lawton. So they resorted to gimmickry: Police called Lawton on his cellphone and told him his Englewood detailing business had been burglarized.
Uniformed officers were waiting when Lawton pulled in. But instead of filing a report, they fitted him with a pair of bracelets.
Lawton, Kirkland and others who did their time in the original heists were soon back at it, only to be re-arrested.
In Kirkland’s case, the results were severe: 18 years in federal prison. Lawton got a non-prosecution agreement in exchange for helping the government build its case against his old pal.
Spinoffs of the crew have been tied to a host of crimes throughout New Jersey and Connecticut. Several members have been sent to prison, others are awaiting sentencing.
MUGSHOT: Courtesy BERGEN COUNTY SHERIFF