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Clerk who reported Grand Forks motel robbery leaves town

Police have released still surveillance shots from a Grand Forks motel that was robbed Thursday afternoon. The stills show a man wearing a black ski mask pointing a black handgun at a front desk clerk of the Budget Inn Express as the clerk opens a drawer behind the counter.

Investigators want to re-interview a motel clerk who told police he was robbed at gunpoint Thursday, but they say he may have left town.

Lt. Rahn Farder said police would like to speak with the clerk about his report to clarify "several issues." Farder wouldn't specify which issues nor would he say whether investigators suspect the clerk, Ricky Stephens, 28, of having a role in the holdup at the Budget Inn Express.

But Stephen Lindblom, a Budget Inn manager, said he's not convinced the robbery was real and thinks the clerk's story needs to be investigated further.

"I don't buy it at all. It seems completely staged to me. In the same breath, I'll say it very well could have happened," Lindblom said.

Lindblom said the motel's owners called for a cab to take Stephens to the bank to deposit money Thursday. "And in a very short period of time, he called to say he'd been robbed," Lindblom said. "The timing on this is just impeccably convenient."

He said Stephens drove off Friday morning after cleaning out his residence at the motel. "He pretty much left his place high and dry," Lindblom said.

Lindblom said Stephens left behind miscellaneous items, furniture and his pregnant dog.

"He was getting hot under the collar," Lindblom said. "I think he just felt the pressure."

Lindblom said Stephens had worked at the motel for close to a year and was "a really good handyman."

He said Stephens wasn't fired but that "he's not allowed on the premises anymore."

Farder said it's standard procedure for police to re-interview victims in cases like this.

The lieutenant urged Stephens to call the department at (701) 787-8000. Farder and Lindblom said they did not have a phone number to reach Stephens.

The report

Stephens called police at 4:12 p.m. Thursday and told them the motel at 3400 Gateway Drive had just been robbed. He told police "he had been away from the front door for a short period of time. When he came back is when he was confronted by a subject wearing a black ski mask and displaying a handgun," Farder said.

On Friday, police released still surveillance shots that show the robber pointing a black handgun at Stephens, who is standing by an open drawer behind the motel's counter.

After demanding money, the robber took cash from Stephens and fled out the back door, Stephens told police. No other motel employees or guests witnessed the robbery, police said.

On Thursday evening, during a brief conversation with the Herald, Stephens said he didn't recognize the robber.

He said he was not sure how much money was stolen.

Farder said less than $100 in cash was taken from the till but that the robber also took a blue bank deposit bag that contained an undetermined amount of money.

Police said Stephens did not chase after the robber and did not see which direction he went. Police searched the area but did not find a suspect.

The robber was described as a white man who stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 200 pounds. He was wearing leather work gloves, jeans and a long-sleeve, maroon, button-down shirt with a collar.

Farder said police plan to analyze the surveillance video and re-interview people who were around the motel when the robbery occurred.

Lindblom said he's the general manager for the Budget Inn in Bismarck but that he's here to overhaul the Grand Forks motel and hopefully improve its reputation.

"We're cleaning up," he said.

"We've got families and children that live here, and we've got to give them a better environment."