September 17, 2014

Authorities bust up heavy equipment theft ring

Authorities have so far recovered approximately $400,000 in stolen farm equipment. Law enforcement from both North and South Carolinas gathered Wednesday to announce the arrest of a suspect in a theft ring that stretched from Charlotte to Georgia. Authorities say the culprits have been taking very expensive heavy equipment for several months or longer. More arrests are expected.

Representatives of the Polk County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Office and Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office say the Spartanburg man, whose name has not been released, drove a stolen truck from Lincoln County, North Carolina. He’s also accused of thefts in Greenville and Spartanburg counties and Rutherfordton, North Carolina. Authorities in those locations have assisted in investigating the case, as well as the North Carolina Highway Patrol and deputies in Davis County Georgia.

The suspect was arrested Wednesday morning after a chase in North Carolina. Authorities say the suspect was driving a truck with a trailer attached on I-26, then left the interstate traveling more than 80 mph onto an exit ramp near Saluda. A foot chase followed before the suspect was apprehended.

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright says they expect to recover at least $1.5 million in farm equipment.

Sheriff Wright says the thefts have really hurt their victims. For many farmers, the stolen equipment was the most valuable part of their business, as was the case of the Enoree farmer who had his combine stolen.  “I felt for this farmer in Enoree.  We got back his $60,000 combine.  But before that, he told me that losing that machine ‘about did it for him.’  I don’t know too many people who can absorb a loss like that and keep on trucking.  That takes a long time to pay for, a lot of hay to sell.” 

Wright says the theives were basically taking orders online for used equipment, then finding it and stealing it.

The sheriff says the ring was only busted thanks to communication between agencies.  “Bad guys don’t care about lines of jurisdiction.  In the past they’ve been able to go over the line to North Carolina and do what they wanted and they knew we weren’t talking with North Carolina.  But since 2005 we made that a priority, to communicate with our partners, and we have been very successful.”

The Sheriff says there’s more stolen equipment out there.  He encourages the public to contact his department about anyone who has gotten a really good deal on used heavy equipment.