AREA OFFICERS CHECK ITEMS TAKEN IN CRIMES
By Cynthia M. Jeffries
VERONA – Booneville police officers recovered a couple of car radios. A Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce investigator found a few tools. And Pontotoc County Sheriff Randy Roberts located an air compressor and large wrenches that were reported stolen in his county last May.
The law enforcement officers were among dozens who went to an open-air market of sorts Wednesday at the Lee County Agri-Center where they found loads of stolen loot that may have been taken from their areas.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Department and the Mississippi Highway Patrol’s Criminal Investigation Bureau put on the event in hopes of finding the rightful owners of some of the merchandise.
The items were seized in October from an alleged chop-shop operated by a father and son in Guntown. It took two tractor-trailers to haul the tools, car radios, air compressors, saddles, tires, electronic equipment, mattresses, doors and other items that were sprawled across the floor of the Agri-Center.
The father-and-son duo have been charged by Lee County authorities in connection with the thefts. Other charges from other counties could also be levied.
To claim the merchandise, law enforcement officers had to produce a police report that showed someone had reported an item missing. The officer then had to match the item, description and serial number on the theft report to one of the stolen goods before taking it out the door.
But identifying the merchandise wasn’t simple, said Pontotoc County Sheriff’s Investigator Kevin Rodgers. Some of the serial numbers had been scratched off and some of the items had been repainted.
Plus, Agriculture and Commerce Livestock Theft Investigator Billy Benson said, “A lot of time, (original owners) don’t keep up with serial numbers.”
Lee County Sheriff’s Lt. Terry Jones said he hopes the majority of the items will be claimed. All that aren’t will be held at the sheriff’s department until a court can decide what to do with the items. If the courts turn the unclaimed items over the sheriff’s department, deputies could sell the merchandise and put the money back into the sheriff’s budget.
The event is scheduled to continue from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jones and Master Sgt. Mike Berthay of the Highway Patrol Department will open the doors today to insurance agents as well. The event is not open to the public.
Most of the officers Wednesday were from Northeast Mississippi, but one from as far away as Batesville said he saw some items he believed were stolen in his jurisdiction.
Putting loads of stolen merchandise on display is not new to the area. Starkville and Lowndes County authorities did it last year after confiscating truckloads of stolen merchandise. The merchandise was claimed by agencies in 40 counties, a Mississippi Highway Patrol officer from Starkville said.