Comedian Michael Thorne has quite the tale to tell about his performance as an accidental getaway driver for two would-be bank scammers.
The Apple Valley comic supplements his income by driving for Uber and Lyft. On Aug. 23 he found himself behind the wheel of his Prius surrounded by cops with guns drawn in the parking lot of the Bremer Bank in Eagan.
“I had adrenaline rushing,” he said this week. “I thought something went down in that bank. You see these scenarios on TV and Facebook and they don’t end well.”
It didn’t for his passengers, Cameron Anderson, 24, of Atlanta, and Ernest Bernard, 30, of Boston. The men were arrested and charged with financial transaction card fraud and identity theft, according to documents filed in Dakota County District Court.
Thorne said he had an “uneasy” feeling when he got the call from the Lyft ride-sharing service to go to the Motel 6 off Interstate 494 and Cedar Avenue in Richfield.
When he arrived, Thorne called to alert the woman who arranged the ride. Instead of her, Anderson and Bernard got in his car. The men reeked of marijuana, Thorne said, and told him they planned to go to the Mall of America. But first they gave Thorne an address in Eagan.
Figuring it was just a stop on the way to the megamall, Thorne drove to the address, which turned out to be the Bremer Bank on Rahncliff Road. While Anderson went inside, Thorne chatted up Bernard.
“We talked and laughed.” Thorne said. “He told me they were in town to meet some girls and have fun.”
The two were up to something far more sinister. Eagan police believe the men tried to withdraw money from the bank using stolen account numbers, but abandoned the effort when a bank clerk became suspicious and alerted police.
Thorne said that after the bank visit, the men asked to be taken to the nearby Taco Bell. That’s when police “came blazing across the parking lot” and made the stop, he said.
He said he told himself, “Just don’t reach for anything. Don’t pull anything out of your pockets.
“The cop asked me if I was an Uber driver. I said, ‘Uber and Lyft.’ He said, ‘Sorry to detain you.’ I said ‘no problem.’ ”
Thorne posted part of the arrest on Facebook and asked whether he should have kept the meter running. Thorne did get his $27 payment, but no bonus risk pay.
“You get $200 if somebody throws up in your car, but no compensation if your life is threatened,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Lyft said drivers can and should end a ride if they feel their safety is threatened.
She also said the company has a safety team to handle emergencies and a critical response line for drivers to reach experts by phone.
“This is a frightening situation and we are relieved that nobody was hurt,” said spokeswoman Kate Margolis.
Police found multiple stolen credit cards, skimming devices and a laptop computer in the men’s hotel room. They had made several attempts to withdraw money, the charges said.
Anderson and Bernard won’t be going anywhere any time soon. They are being held in the Dakota County jail ahead of court appearances in September.