Ned Lally, a sales associate at U.S. Cellular's Airwaves store in Belfast, stands by the scene of the crime. A demo cell phone was stolen Wednesday from the store. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Ned Lally has worked at the Airwaves U.S. Cellular store in Belfast for five years, and in that time he hasn’t seen much crime other than someone passing a bad check once.

That streak snapped Wednesday afternoon.

A man and woman came into the store together. While the woman disputed her phone bill and went over her account information with Lally, the man pocketed one of the store’s demo phones.

“The moment when they left, we started getting this loud beep,” he said Thursday.  

Lally realized that the demo phone, a $1,000 Samsung Galaxy Z Flip3, was missing, and the phone next to it had been tampered with. He contacted police — and then he made a social media post about the situation. The Facebook post, written with a keen sense of the ridiculous, already had been seen by 30,000 people less than 24 hours after the theft.

“Good evening, Waldo County! Did you and/or your significant other just steal one of our demo phones and attempt to steal another of them moments after having me look up your account, which provides your address, phone number, [social security number] and any and all other possible demographic information that might be helpful to law enforcement in such a fumbling, bumbling scenario?” he wrote. “Well, Maine’s Dumbest Criminals, have I got some news for you both: you should be expecting a visit from some men and/or women in blue. This is because you gave me your address by having me look up your bill. That was amazingly idiotic.”

Lally went on to encourage them to return the demo phone to the store on Thursday, saying that Airwaves wouldn’t press charges if it came back by then.

“I’ve been in sticky situations before myself,” he said. “I do believe in second chances.”

But by 4 p.m. Thursday, the phone hadn’t been returned. Lally did, however, have a text conversation with the woman earlier in the day, telling her that the store had video footage from its six cameras which showed the theft.

“She was playing dumb at first,” she said. “She stated she didn’t realize it had happened.”

Lally is still holding out hope that the couple will have a change of heart. Besides, he said, it would take a lot to make the demo phone work like a normal, functional phone. If the couple brought it to a different phone provider and asked for it to be unlocked, they’d be told right away that it was a demo phone and could not be activated.

Detective Sgt. Dan Fitzpatrick of the Belfast Police Department said that the theft is still under investigation. He, too, saw the Facebook post and laughed about it.

“I think it’s hilarious,” he said. “I think it was well-played by Airwaves. There was comedy. There was truth. ‘Hey, listen, we just want our little demo phone back.’”

Lally said that just about every customer who has come to the store since the post started to gain traction has asked if they’d gotten the phone back yet. So have other folks who have caught sight of him.

“I went for a ride on my scooter yesterday, and four or five people shouted, ‘Have you gotten your phone back?’” he said.

Above all, the flagrant nature of the theft has tickled his funny bone.  

“If they thought they had laid out some sort of carefully orchestrated scheme, they did the exact opposite, which is what I can’t get my head around,” he said. “Maybe there’s something to be gleaned out of it somewhere. ‘Don’t do really dumb things.’ That was our immediate reaction. The whole thing is comical.”