CLUB ELITE SHOOTING | Reward money gets tips flowing

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 1, 2011 

PALMETTO -- Today marks three weeks since Trayon Goff, 25, of Rubonia, and Gwenette Matthews, 38, of Bradenton, fell dead in a hail of bullets that wounded 22 others at the now-defunct Club Elite in what some call the worst mass shooting in Manatee history.

Although there have been no arrests, there has been a flow of tips, perhaps fueled by offers from three local organizations that, combined, have lifted the reward to $21,000.

Manatee County Crime Stoppers has offered $1,000, which is the most it can offer under its bylaws, said executive director Frank Brunner.

Gold Star Club, started by former Manatee County commissioner Ron Getman in 2000, is contributing $10,000, Getman said.

The city of Palmetto is offering to match Gold Star’s $10,000 with money from its community policing fund, said Lt. Scott Tyler of the Palmetto Police Department.

Law enforcement officials believe they might be one tip away from making an arrest, said Tyler, who urges the public to come forward and offer what they know, anonymously if they choose.

“We are reminding people to keep calling,” Tyler said. “I know when I talk to people in the community that they are sick of hearing that we are moving forward in the case. But it is true we are making progress. We just can’t reveal our information because we can’t compromise our case.”

Brunner added: “Sometimes a crime is like a puzzle. Someone will know just a little something, but police can put that little something, like the make or model of a car, with other little somethings. Before you know it, they can connect the dots and they see a full picture.”

What’s my tip-code?

Brunner and others wonder, however, if members of the public truly believe they will remain anonymous if they call Crime Stoppers with a vital tip.

The answer is yes, says Brunner, thanks a complex system that has been in place in Manatee County since the 1980s.

“We have never compromised the identity of an informant,” Brunner said.

It starts with a call center in Canada.

If someone with information about the Club Elite shooting calls the Crime Stoppers tip-line at (866) 634-8477 any time, day or night, a live operator will answer, Brunner said.

Informants can also go to manateecrimestoppers.com and tap the “Give a tip” icon.

“After you give your tip, you are given a tip-code,” Brunner said, indicating that if it is done online, the machine generates a tip-code.

“Then you are asked to call back in two weeks,” he said. “When you do, you say, ‘Hello, I’m tip-code ABC-123. What’s my reward status?’ ”

The operator will answer either, “ ‘We checked it out and none of your tips came through,’ or ‘Thank you, but the investigation is still active,’ or ‘Your tip led to an arrest.’ ”

If the tip leads to an arrest, the tipster will be asked to call back for a verdict on how much money they are to receive after the Crime Stoppers board meets on the matter. The tipster will be told to go to the drive-thru of a certain local bank that works with Crime Stoppers.

“We don’t take a chance sending them into the lobby,” Brunner said.

The tipster tells the bank teller, “I am here to collect a Crime Stoppers reward,” Brunner said.

The teller asks for the person’s tip-code and finds it written on an envelope, which has been delivered to the bank and contains a check inside made out to the tip-code, not the individual.

“The teller then endorses the check to cash,” Brunner said. “The tipster doesn’t even have to endorse the back of the check. No signature needed.”

The reward money doesn’t even require a 1099 tax form, which is normally required for any income more than $600, he said.

“The reward money is tax free,” Brunner said.

Gold Star and other organizations use similar systems and often work directly with Crime Stoppers on the payment, Brunner added.

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