The King County Sheriff’s Office believes 10 people staged a takeover-style robbery at a SeaTac restaurant last month in an attempt to obtain visas that are available to some victims of crime, it announced Monday.
Deputies and officers from the SeaTac Police Department responded to Bob’s Burgers & Teriyaki the night of Oct. 19 after an employee reported a robbery. There, officers were told that two robbers, one of whom had a gun, tied up a restaurant manager and six customers, then stole their belongings and sexually assaulted two women, said sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Ryan Abbott.
“It was all a lie,” Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht said at a Monday press conference. “Every employee present that evening, every customer, participated in a deliberate hoax.”
There was a staged robbery, as the two alleged robbers dressed up in masks, tied up the others and drove off in one of their cars, which hasn’t been located yet, Abbott said. But detectives believe all 10 people — the six customers, a manager, the employee who called police and the two alleged robbers — were in on the hoax.
SeaTac Police Chief Jon Mattsen said the the stories from those involved didn’t align. Then, Abbott said, two of the people told detectives the robbery was staged in an attempt to qualify for a U visa, which is granted to some undocumented crime victims who assist officials in investigating and prosecuting the crimes. The Sheriff’s Office does not know how many of the people involved hoped to apply for a U visa, as it does not ask about immigration status, Abbott said.
Investigating the case was a “tremendous waste of resources,” Mattsen said.
None of the people involved, who range from 38 to 51, is in custody, Abbott said. Detectives had not yet finished their investigation when conservative talk-show host Jason Rantz posted that the robbery was a hoax, citing anonymous law-enforcement officials.
When asked if ICE would become involved in the case, Johanknecht said, “I’m not letting go of this.” She said her office was working with prosecutors to file charges under state law.
Officials don’t believe the owner of the restaurant was involved, Abbott said.
The alleged hoax would be unusual: Both Johanknecht and Mattsen said they hadn’t seen anything like it in their careers.
Research also has consistently shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the U.S. A 2018 study published in the journal Criminology did not find a positive relationship between the number of undocumented immigrants and crime rates.
In addition, research including a prominent 2010 study from the University of Massachusetts Boston has found that false reports of sexual assault are low and make up between about 2% and 10% of reports.
In a statement, SeaTac City Manager Carl Cole said that “the City is disheartened that individuals would falsely report a crime causing the diversion of first responders from other emergency calls and major crime cases. … This hoax does harm to all true victims of sexual assault.”