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Police: Robber paid child support with his take

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AUSTIN — A man who authorities believe robbed a gas station in order to pay overdue child support has maintained his innocence in the case.

Timothy Gordon Lester, 47, of Austin, has been charged with one count each of simple robbery, a felony, and fifth-degree drug possession, a gross misdemeanor. He remains in custody in lieu of $100,000 unconditional bail, and is due in Mower County District Court on Jan. 12.

The case began about 8:45 p.m. Dec. 26 with a report of a robbery of the Apollo III gas station, 3011 W. Oakland Ave. in Austin. The employee described the suspect as an older white male wearing a blue face mask, a dark puffy coat, light gloves and tan shoes.

The man entered the business about 8:40 p.m., asked how late the store was open, then said he forgot his money and would be right back. Less than a minute later, he came back and told the employee, "excuse me, sir, this is a robbery. I'm going to need you to go to the back and count to 400."

The clerk complied; about a minute later he heard the door chime, indicating the robber had left. He waited about five more minutes, then came out and called law enforcement. The cash drawers from both registers were missing, a total of $1,198.97.

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Surveillance video from the store confirmed the employee's story, and also seemed to indicate the suspect was familiar with how to open the registers. He also appeared to know the areas that were not monitored by the surveillance cameras.

The next day, the investigator was contacted by a child support worker with Mower County Human Services, who said Lester had just made a $1,200 payment on back child support. The woman said Lester used to work at Apollo III, "had a history of failing to pay child support and claimed he could not afford to make the payments," the complaint says.

Lester, who was still at the human services office, told detectives he'd recently gotten married and had received cash as wedding gifts. He also offered the names of a couple who would provide an alibi for the night before.

While Lester attended his child support hearing, an officer contacted the female witness. She denied they were with Lester, but said she'd given him a ride to the bank that morning to exchange a sandwich bag full of small bills for larger ones, court documents say. The woman said Lester told her a former cell mate at the jail had given him the money for his child support payment.

Lester was arrested after his hearing, and deflected questions with questions of his own, the report says.

A detective met with Lester's wife, who refused to allow a search the residence. She said she gave Lester $600 that she'd been saving, and the other $600 was received as wedding gifts. A blue puffy vest and dark hooded jacket hung near the front door; a pair of tan shoes was nearby.

A search warrant at the home turned up a metal lock box with methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia, the complaint says; Lester's wife admitted using meth, but said the lock box and its contents were his. She was arrested.

Lester continued to claim the money was from wedding gifts and his wife; he said he'd told the witness it was from a cell mate because he'd already borrowed money from her. According to the reports, Lester denied knowledge of the lock box and said the meth was his wife's, adding it explained "a lot about her recent behavior."

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Lester allegedly changed his original story, saying his wife had given him $900, and $300 of the cash he'd used was from the wedding. He didn't know where she'd gotten the cash, but said his wife and her "tweaker friends" were "maybe setting me up."

Lester's wife maintained her story, and told investigators he was home with her during the time of the robbery.

The female witness reportedly said the still shot of the robber from the surveillance video "looked just like the defendant."

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