Investigation ongoing in equipment theft ringPublished 9:50pm Friday, December 21, 2012
While 19 North Carolina law enforcement agencies collaborated to bring down an equipment theft ring, lead investigators with the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles are asking for the public’s assistance with the ongoing investigation.
Over a two-year period, more than $1 million-worth of grass mowers, lawn equipment, trailers, back hoes, tractors, skid steers and mini-excavators were stolen from both individuals and businesses in eastern North Carolina, according to a press release from NCDMV License and Theft Bureau. The suspects targeted farm and lawn equipment businesses, construction companies and other small businesses. Just over half the stolen equipment was recovered — some from as far away as Mecklenberg County.
The investigation was launched in February 2011 by the Beaufort and Pitt County Sheriff’s Offices, after an increase in equipment theft reports alerted local law enforcement officials.
According to Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Maj. Kenneth Watson, it was theft of John Deere lawn mowers and utility vehicles from Beaufort County homes and businesses that tipped off the sheriff’s office.
“We identified a series of thefts that we felt were related because of the way the thefts were carried out,” Watson said. “They would bring transportation to the location of the equipment, like an enclosed trailer. Based on the methods they were using, it was apparent they were doing some scouting beforehand and had prepared how to commit the offense.”
In mid-July of 2011, William Thomas Johnson, 48, of Plymouth, Clinton Gray Dawson, 48, also of Plymouth were arrested and charged with the crimes. Johnson faces 104 felony counts; Dawson, 112. Michael Anthony Hill, 45, of Windsor, Leon Fitzgerald Davis, 45, of Dunn, and Timothy Omar Hankins, 45, of Garner have also been arrested. Charges against all five included felony larceny and felony possession of stolen goods, said the release.
Both Dawson and Johnson have had previous run-ins with the sheriff’s office: Dawson with two past felony breaking and entering charges; Johnson with prior larceny charges.
Watson said the DMV became involved in the case as it grew to encompass many surrounding counties.
“DMV acted as the lead agency because of the significant geographical area involved,” Watson explained.
Equipment thefts and recoveries took place in Beaufort, Brunswick, Craven, Chowan, Duplin, Greene, Harnett, Lenoir, Martin, Nash, Pitt, Wake, Washington and Wilson counties. The investigation involved sheriff’s offices in those 14 counties, in addition to police departments in Four Oaks, Greenville, New Bern, Washington and Winterville.
“This group committed multiple crimes over multiple jurisdictions,” Watson said, adding that it was the collaborative effort — meetings, sharing information and assisting in recovery — between the many law enforcement organizations that led to the arrest of the five men.
According to the License and Theft Bureau’s press release, additional suspects are thought to be involved in similar organized activities in North Carolina. As the investigation continues, DMV investigators are asking the public to call local agencies with any information about the suspects and/or any similar suspicious activities in the area.
To contact Beaufort County Crime Stoppers call 252-974-6400; text a tip anonymously by dialing 274637 on a cellphone and in the body of the message, type BCSO131 and the tip; or submit a tip through the Crime Stoppers website, www.beaufortcountycrimestoppers.com, by following the “Tip Line” link and filling out an online form. All calls, texts and emails are anonymous.