An investigation into a major theft ring involving big trucks, trailers and assorted construction equipment valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars has been solved with the recovery of items and the arrests of three men.
The case, spearheaded by the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office, is likely to lead to additional arrests, according to Sheriff Bill Massee.
The case has been linked to nine other counties across Georgia where similar items have been stolen in recent weeks from construction sites, said Baldwin County Sheriff’s Detective Thomas “T.J.” Hargrove.
The theft ring, which is believed to have been led by a man now jailed in Baldwin County, could lead to racketeering charges being filed against the suspects already in custody and those yet to be arrested, Massee said.
Regardless of jurisdiction, if and when federal RICO charges are actually filed against the suspects and others expected to be arrested in the case, the entire case would then be prosecuted in Baldwin County.
Already Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit District Attorney Stephen A. Bradley is looking at the possibility of filing such charges against the trio of suspects now jailed in the Baldwin County Law Enforcement Center. Assistant District Attorneys Leonard D. Myers and Dawn Baskin also are involved in reviewing the case to determine if the suspects will be charged under the RICO Act.
“We’ve already discussed the idea of seeking RICO charges against the men we have in custody and others that will likely be arrested in this case,” said Hargrove, who is the lead detective in the case. “In a RICO case, you have to prove two elements. You have to prove conspiracy and you have to prove (criminal) enterprise.”
Several law enforcement agencies are involved in the case after Hargrove informed them of the magnitude and scope of the theft and that it involved numerous suspects.
One such agency is the Byron Police Department in Houston County.
“A cargo load of Kubota tractors, known as UTVs, were stolen to the tune of about $50,000,” Hargrove said. “They were brought to Baldwin County where they stayed for about 15 minutes. They stayed at 359 Allen Memorial Drive before the load was taken to Hancock County and unloaded and the truck and trailer discarded there.”
Authorities still have not determined where the stolen tractors ended up.
None of them have been recovered, Massee said.
“What we’re doing in the interim of waiting on the RICO idea to play out is we are having these various jurisdictions who will do it to go ahead and take charges in their jurisdictions,” Hargrove said.
Hargrove identified the three suspects as: Jamaul Kenneth Evans, of Harrisburg Road, Lot 4-A, Milledgeville; Marcus Curtis, 29, of Huff Road, Apt. 2421, Atlanta; and Garrick Lashawn Dixon, of Brisco Road, Gordon.
Massee said Dixon lives in Baldwin County but has a Gordon mailing address.
Evans, whom authorities believe was one of the masterminds of the major theft ring, was taken into custody for felony probation violation, two counts of felony cargo theft, and one count of felony theft by receiving stolen property.
Dixon was charged with two counts of felony cargo theft, and one felony count of theft by receiving stolen property.
Curtis, who formerly lived in Milledgeville before moving to Atlanta, was charged with one felony count of theft by receiving stolen property.
Additional criminal charges are expected to be filed against all three of those men, Hargrove said, noting Curtis was taken into custody on an outstanding warrant at his Atlanta residence last Thursday afternoon by the U.S. Marshal’s Service.
Hargrove said he was in process of obtaining additional warrants against the three suspects.
“What we’ve done currently is arrest them on what we can prove happened in Baldwin County,” Hargrove said.
The detective explained that those involved in the theft ring are not interested in actually keeping the semi-trucks or trailers they steal.
“They don’t have any interest in those items,” Hargrove said. “That is merely to transport the property. They want the merchandise. They are after the load. They like construction-type of equipment.”
Authorities said they have learned the individual roles played by those they believe responsible for the crimes.
Aside from the case in Byron, another theft case happened Aug. 30 in Macon-Bibb County.
“This is the most recent theft of a truck,” Hargrove said. “This is the one that was encountered on Harrisburg Road in Baldwin County.”
Local deputies already had been made aware of the thefts and were on the lookout for the possibility of stolen tractor-trailers with cargo.
Deputy Joshua Holcomb spotted what he believed to be a suspicious semi-tractor truck recently traveling along Harrisburg Road. The deputy turned around on the truck, but by the time he found the truck behind Martin’s IGA, the driver had managed to escape. A search for the suspect was conducted by deputies, a K-9 officer and tracking dog, but authorities didn’t catch the man driving the truck, which turned out to have been stolen.
The Sterling Industrial truck was stolen Aug. 28 on Baxter Avenue in Macon and recovered in Baldwin County.
The truck was valued at $50,000.
Another semi-tractor truck, a Freightliner, which had been stolen from Lamar County, was recovered in Baldwin County Aug. 16.
The truck was discovered behind the Collins P. Lee Community Center in the Harrisburg neighborhood.
“I knew that they liked two places here in the county, Martin’s IGA and the Harrisburg area,” Hargrove said. “I asked deputies when they had time to please check those two places.”
Deputy Benjamin Forbus recovered the stolen truck after its owner called the sheriff’s office to inform them that the truck’s GPS tracking system was showing that it was parked at the community center in Baldwin County.
“That truck was actually found on the same night it was stolen,” Hargrove said.
Deputy Lt. Lee Williamson recovered a stolen semi-tractor truck behind Martin’s IGA July 25, which is what led to the unfolding of the major theft investigation.
It began with the theft of two Bobcats within the city limits of Milledgeville.
“They thought kids were doing it, because they found one in a wooded area right behind from where it was taken,” Hargrove said. “What they (police officers) didn’t realize and what I didn’t realize is that these guys would take this stuff and dump it off in the woods in a desolate area and then come back later and pick it up. They wanted to make sure the GPS wasn’t enabled on it and they wanted to make sure nobody was looking for it.”
Once they discovered no one was coming for the stolen items, those believed involved in the crime spree went back and retrieved the items and then took them to Atlanta where they were sold to a person described as a “fence.”
Hargrove said when it got deeper into the case, he was advised to call for assistance from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Major Theft Unit. GBI Special Agent Cecil Hutchins from the Conyers office rendered his assistance in the case.
The detective said he has also been assisted in the case by detectives Greg See, Chris Youngblood and Chris Burrell.
“We’re still trying to figure out what these three suspects are actually responsible for as far as thefts are concerned, as well as other people that are involved, but who have not yet been arrested,” Hargrove said.
Massee said what is unknown to authorities at this time is how many thefts happened that they haven’t or can’t document.
“We don’t know what the true volume is as far as number of theft cases is concerned,” Massee said. “The volume of stolen equipment and the dollar value that T.J. [Hargrove] has proven is a tremendous cost to property owners — these people who own these pieces of heavy equipment. What we don’t know is how many more pieces of equipment they stole that we haven’t documented yet.”
That’s why the case remains an active investigation, the sheriff pointed out.
“At this point in time, it literally covers from Milledgeville to Atlanta and to Crawford County,” Massee said.
Anyone with information about such thefts is asked to call the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office tip line at 478-445-5102.