5 men arrested in probe of thefts

Local police, FBI seize vehicles, weapons in raids

6-month investigation

September 28, 2001|By Tim Craig | Tim Craig,SUN STAFF

Local and federal law enforcement officials arrested five people and seized several hundred thousand dollars worth of goods during a series of raids yesterday, the result of a six-month theft investigation.

The raids, led by the Regional Auto Theft Team, took police and FBI agents to nine locations in Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties,

Five men were arrested and an arrest warrant was issued for a sixth. Authorities seized two dozen vehicles, 30 weapons and more than 100 other items. RATT members and FBI agents were joined by sheriff's deputies from Harford and Cecil counties in the raids on seven homes and two storage sheds.

The items are believed to have been stolen from at least 100 homes and businesses in Maryland and Delaware during the past two years, authorities said.

Police were trying to collect and identify the stolen items last night, but said they believe when everything is tallied it will be one of the largest seizures in the history of the 6-year-old RATT.

The squad is made up of Baltimore city and county officers assigned to investigate vehicle theft.

The squad's future was threatened this year when state officials cut some of its funding. Most of the money was restored, but new, long-term funding sources are needed to keep the squad operating, police have said.

The investigation began six months ago when Delaware State Police received a tip about a series of thefts in that state and in Maryland, said Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan. Delaware authorities notified the RATT squad, which, with the FBI, began looking into the thefts.

The suspects face a variety of theft charges. Their identities, as well as the addresses of where the raids took place, were withheld last night because the investigation is continuing.

"We are hoping it expands with the interviews" of the suspects, said Lt. Barry Barber, a member of RATT.

Detective Mark Burger, also of RATT, said the suspects are believed to have been stealing vehicles and equipment for eight to 10 years.

"They stole anything and all you can think of that was mobile and reusable," Sheridan said.

Among the seized items were 13 motorcycles, seven trailers, three motor scooters, three trucks, a golf cart and a backhoe. Dozens of vehicle parts, tools and pieces of lawn equipment also were seized.

Burger said the men -- whom he described as acquaintances rather than an organized crime ring -- targeted construction sites, homes and businesses.

RATT, established in 1995 and funded in part through state grants, is widely credited for reducing auto theft rates in the city and county.

In the spring, the General Assembly slashed two-thirds of the funding for the state's Vehicle Theft Prevention Council, which gave about $2.7 million in grants last year to various anti-theft programs, including RATT.

Since then, state officials have been able to restore about $1.2 million, but most programs -- including RATT -- saw their funding cut by 20 percent this year. The current grants expire at the end of March and state officials have said they hope to line up additional funding by then.

Sheridan said yesterday's raids demonstrate the squad's value.

"This is the most prolific group in the business; they just do a bang-up job ... and these are the results," Sheridan said, standing near a table stacked with seized weapons. "This is why this group should get the funding it has had for the last five-plus years."

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