By Sharna Johnson: CNJ Staff Writer
A loosely formed theft ring that targeted rural homes went too far when they broke into the home of a state police agent and stole his service gun.
An anonymous tip to the Curry County Sheriff’s Department that identified a suspect in the July 18 break-in led to 10 arrests and the recovery of more than $100,000 of stolen property in the last two weeks, according to state police.
Six women and four men, ranging in age from 19 to 48, had been arrested on a range of charges as of Wednesday, according to court records.
Investigators found many of the stolen items recovered were sold or traded for drugs, according to Gary Smith, an agent with the state police’s Criminal Investigations Section.
State police and the Curry County Sheriff’s Office have linked the group to at least 12 burglaries in Curry County and a home in Farwell, and are examining cases within the city for connections, police said.
Levels of involvement varied, Smith said. Some members played active roles in the burglaries while others assisted in transporting or loading stolen property or received property as compensation for drugs, he said.
The rash of burglaries under investigation occurred between July 4 and July 18, according to Curry County Undersheriff Doug Bowman.
A majority of the crimes were opportunity based, Smith said.
“People can deter a lot of burglaries by locking stuff up — in 99 percent of the burglaries they found an open door and they just walked in.”
At least 14 victims are being contacted to identify their property. Investigators expect to find more stolen property.
“Some of the stolen property we’ve recovered — a lot is still out there. We have victims out there that don’t even know they’re missing stuff,” Smith said.
Smith said to fund their drug use, the group of friends began burglarizing homes and eventually came up with a scheme for burglarizing storage units.
He said suspects rented storage units using false identities and during daylight hours cut the locks on multiple units and loaded the contents into rented moving trucks. The stolen items stored in rented storage units were at the same facilities, Smith said.