DRACUT — A 32-year-old Dracut man suspected of robbing three convenience stores at gunpoint on Christmas Eve — two in Lowell and another in Tewksbury — was arrested on Thursday, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Mendell’s office.
Michael Vangpa, who is currently on probation for the 2014 robbery of two banks in Lowell, is accused of pistol whipping two cashiers and firing a round from his handgun while carrying out the Christmas Eve robberies, according to a criminal complaint filed by a federal agent in U.S. District Court.
The discharged round did not strike anyone, but was recovered at the 7-Eleven at 63 Mammoth Road by Lowell Police and ended up being a key piece of evidence in Vangpa’s arrest, the criminal complaint states.
The first of three armed robberies occurred around 2 a.m. Dec. 24 at the 7-Eleven on Mammoth Road. According to the criminal complaint, the suspect entered the store while brandishing a black handgun and wearing a black mask, a dark-colored hooded sweatshirt, black gloves, black shorts and white sneakers.
The criminal complaint states the suspect demanded money from the store’s cashier before firing a round from the handgun into cardboard boxes located under the cash register. The cashier then gave the suspect $60 from the store’s register and about $600 worth of cigarettes.
At 2:15 a.m., the criminal complaint says the suspect — wearing the same clothing — then entered the 7-Eleven at 55 Chelmsford St. in Lowell, about 1 1/2 miles away from the Mammoth Road convenience store. According to the criminal complaint, the armed suspect again demanded money, but this time struck the cashier in the back of the head with the handgun before leaving the store with at least $200 from the register.
The final robbery occurred at the Circle K, at 1785 Andover St., Tewksbury, at about 2:35 a.m., the criminal complaint states. Wearing the same outfit, the suspect entered the convenience store and again struck the cashier in the back of the head with a handgun. The suspect then fled the store with about $1,600 from the cash register.
In one of the still images captured from the surveillance footage at the Circle K convenience store, the suspect can be seen pointing the handgun at the cashier’s head — the muzzle pressed against the victim’s temple.
Based on witness accounts and surveillance footage recovered from each convenience store, the federal agent who submitted the criminal complaint states the suspect appears to be the same person in each of the robberies.
The criminal complaint further states law enforcement obtained video surveillance from buildings located near each robbery site and tracked the individual as he moved outside the crime scenes. The complaint states federal agents were able to identify the vehicle used by the suspect, which was a 2019 Acura TLX that was registered to Vangpa.
Further investigation of Vangpa’s cellphone carrier determined the Dracut man was in the area of each robbery at the time of the crimes, according to the criminal complaint.
The criminal complaint reveals the case against Vangpa advanced following an arrest warrant that was issued by the Nashua, N.H., Police Department against the 32-year-old for two charges of felon in possession of a dangerous weapon and falsifying physical evidence.
The criminal complaint states on March 6, Nashua Police received a report from an employee at the Boston Billiard Club & Casino that two patrons were in possession of firearms at the establishment, which is a violation of the casino’s guest policy.
Nashua Police officers went to the casino where they found a man — who had allegedly been seen with Vangpa — in possession of a loaded black .45-caliber handgun. The man, who was not identified in the criminal complaint, told police the firearm was given to him by Vangpa in the casino just before police arrived. The story was allegedly corroborated by another casino patron, according to the criminal complaint.
An arrest warrant was issued for Vangpa by Nashua Police on March 23 and the Dracut man turned himself in the following day. On June 14, Vangpa allegedly admitted to police that he was in possession of a firearm in violation of the terms of his probation.
The criminal complaint states Vangpa is currently on probation for a 2016 armed robbery conviction stemming from a bank robbery in Lowell in 2014. Police said Vangpa robbed the Bank of America at 724 Chelmsford St. on Dec. 13, 2014, and then TD Bank at 350 Westford St. the following day.
According to the criminal complaint, ballistic testing conducted by the FBI established the spent round recovered by Lowell Police at the 7-Eleven on Dec. 24 was fired from the .45-caliber handgun seized by Nashua Police on March 6.
The press release from Mendell’s office says Vangpa was charged with interfering with commerce by robbery, which if convicted includes a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, up to three years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000. Vangpa was also charged with using a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, which includes a possible sentence of up to life in prison and a mandatory consecutive term of imprisonment of 10 years.
Tewksbury Police Chief Ryan Columbus issued a statement on Friday praising the work of Tewksbury detectives and the FBI for Vangpa’s capture.
“I am extremely proud of the work that was done by our Tewksbury Detectives and that of the FBI Violent Crimes Task force who were instrumental in helping us bring this violent person into custody,” Columbus said. “We continue to be very grateful for our continued partnership with the FBI.”
Vangpa appeared in front of U.S. District Court Judge Donald Cabell on Friday where he was detained pending a detention hearing scheduled for Monday.
Follow Aaron Curtis on Twitter @aselahcurtis