UPDATE: Thursday, December 13, 2012
After more than a week without it, Robert Lukenbill can get behind the wheel of his van again.
"I figured I'd never see the vehicle again so I just went on with my life,” Andover Church of Christ preacher Robert Lukenbill said.
Lukenbill reported the van stolen after he found out the new friend he loaned it to, Steven Brown, was a suspected scam artist. Wednesday morning, he got a call from Andover police. They found the van and Brown. Both the preacher and police say they weren't expecting to find Brown so soon and so close.
"I felt that based off all the other stories that we had heard, he had left the state,” Detective Kevin Sailsbury with Andover Police said.
Brown not only didn't leave the state, police found him at hotel in south Wichita, just 15 miles from where Lukenbill first loaned him the van.
Sedgwick county sheriff's deputies were out patrolling parking lots. They spotted the van, ran the plates, and then called Andover police.
Lukenbill says he does hope Brown is charged with stealing his van and if he is, he'd like to visit him in jail and talk to him.
"I do think there's still good in every person. I think this man still has something that would be of value to society if he would just make the decision to change,” Lukenbill said.
Steven Brown is being held in the Butler County Jail. The case has been turned over the Butler County District Attorney's office.
UPDATE: Thursday, December 13, 2012
Steven Brown, a man accused of scamming churches in Louisiana, Georgia, Oklahoma and Kansas, has been caught and arrested in Wichita.
Last week, an Andover preacher reported his van stolen. He says he loaned it to Brown believing he was in need.
Wednesday, Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputies were patrolling through hotel parking lots and spotted the stolen van. They called Andover police and together found Steven Brown in a hotel room. He was arrested and is currently in the Butler County Jail.
We're told the case has been turned over the Butler County District Attorney's office.
The van was returned to the Andover preacher.
Steven Brown is also accused of scamming two Andover churches out of nearly $800.
Thursday, December 13, 2012
A suspected serial scam artist hits up two more churches in Andover and now he could be facing felony theft charges.
We first told you about this story last week. Steven Brown is accused of scamming churches out of money in Louisiana, Georgia, and Oklahoma. Last week, an Andover church pastor told us Brown almost conned him out of $300 dollars. Now, Brown is accused of not only swindling two other churches out money. He's also accused of stealing a car.
"We just want to help, you know as churches that's what we want to do. Somebody comes with a problem you want to try to solve that problem," Andover Church of Christ Preacher Robert Lukenbill said.
Preacher Robert Lukenbill says usually they give away clothing or food but last Sunday they gave $500 cash to Steven Brown.
"So we generally offer those services but we really thought this man was really needing the help at this point to get his family here. As well as he told us his son as was asthmatic and had left his medicine behind and the situation was really important that he get him this money," Lukenbill said.
This time last week, we were talking to a pastor in another Andover church, who had heard the same story from Steven Brown.
Andover police say after our story aired last week, they got a call from another church that had given Brown $280. Officers started going door to door and ended up at Andover Church of Christ.
"One of my church elders was here and greeted the officer and said 'We know that guy.' What my elder didn't know was that I had loaned him my van. Nobody knew that except Steve and I," Lukenbill said.
Police have not been able to find Steven Brown or Lukenbill's van, which is considered stolen.
"You want to be nice and you want to help people out, you want to give them money and help them get back on your feet especially this type of year and it's sad that people take advantage of that," Andover Police officer Troy Snedeker said.
Police say to protect yourself against possible scam artists, don't give cash or gift cards. Instead stick to items like canned goods or clothing.
Robert Lukenbill says from now on, the church won't be giving away cash donations. But he says he doesn't think people like Steven Brown will ever stop churches from helping people in need.
"We haven't allowed all of these scams to harden our hearts," Lukenbill said.