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Stop leads to $250K of stolen property

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Posted: Friday, March 2, 2018 11:39 pm

By Ray Nolting rnolting@parsonssun.com

A Feb. 18 traffic stop by Labette County Sheriff’s Deputy John Hine on U.S. 160 in Altamont started an inquiry that led to the arrest of a Caney businessman and the recovery of about $250,000 in stolen equipment so far.

The thefts mostly involved gooseneck trailers taken from counties in Oklahoma and Kansas, including Labette and Montgomery.

Labette County Sheriff Darren Eichinger and sheriff’s Detective Shannon Vail and Detective Sgt. Kevin Lahey talked about the thefts and investigation Friday.

Hine stopped a three-quarter ton Ford pickup driven by Richard L. “Rick” Fontes, 38, of Caney on Feb. 18. The pickup was pulling a gooseneck trailer (one that attaches to a hitch in the bed of the pickup) that had a storage building on it. The trailer didn’t have wide load placards on it, which was the reason for the traffic stop. The truck and trailer were running vehicles off the road. While the truck and trailer were pulled into the parking lot of the Kansas Department of Transportation building in Altamont, Hine took notice of the trailer, Eichinger said.

Hine found that the plate that holds the trailer’s identification number had been partly removed. Someone spray painted over lettering on the trailer, but the letters “BCA” and “Hayvan” were still visible under the gray primer.

Fontes had a suspended driver’s license, so Hine arrested him.

Eichinger credits Hine’s persistence and follow-up for the investigation advancing quickly over two states after the deputy confirmed the trailer that carried the storage building as one stolen from Bartlett Co-op in Chetopa the night before. A sheriff report shows the trailer was stolen after 9:05 p.m. Feb. 17 from the co-op’s trailer and bed center at 4017 U.S. 59 near the U.S. 166 junction. The traffic stop in Altamont occurred late afternoon or early evening Feb. 18. Fontes bonded out from the Labette County Jail in Oswego after his arrest.

The co-op lost two more trailers, one on Feb. 20 and the other around Feb. 25, from Bartlett and Edna sites. One of the trailers was a Pyramid 36-foot hay trailer valued at $15,000. The other was valued at $3,995. The one recovered from the traffic stop was valued at $6,000.

Security cameras helped investigators determine that the truck that Hine pulled over on Feb. 18 was at other locations in Labette County and in other counties in Oklahoma and Kansas where trailers and equipment had been stolen. People could not be identified in the video, but the truck was, the officers said. One site in Labette County had audio with the video and Eichinger and Lahey said two voices could be heard talking the night a trailer was stolen.

Vail and Lahey met over the last week with investigators in Montgomery County, where one Bartlett co-op trailer was recovered.

Fontes apparently was trying to trade out or sell trailers using social media. A Labette County sheriff’s deputy saw one of the postings about wanting to trade a hay trailer that fit the description of the co-op’s $15,000 trailer. Using this information and after further inquiry, investigators found the hay trailer at Tonkawa, Oklahoma, on a gravel turnaround near an intersection in Kay County, Oklahoma, Eichinger, Vail and Lahey said. Whoever left the trailer there took the receiving hitch out of the tongue so it wouldn’t get stolen.

The co-op is working to return this trailer to Labette County.

Eichinger said Fontes hadn’t been able to trade off or sell any of the trailers or equipment that he allegedly took or possessed in recent weeks.

A person in Oklahoma was talking with Fontes about a trailer that Fontes wanted to trade. The man wanted a title to the trailer and Fontes said he could provide one, though he never did, Lahey said. At one point, Fontes sent the man a text message with a photo of the suspected stolen trailer in his yard, Lahey said.

Investigators learned that a skid steer had been stolen from Washington County, Oklahoma. A pickup like Fontes’ could be seen in security video. The skid steer turned up in Montgomery County.

Once officers determined where Fontes’ mother lived, Labette sheriff’s Deputy Dusty Conrad checked out her home near Morehead and saw an excavator on a trailer on the property. The property was in Montgomery County, across the county line, so Montgomery County authorities determined the excavator was stolen from Chautauqua County and the trailer was stolen from Kay County, Oklahoma.

A stolen trailer was also found in Fontes’ business in Caney, Rick’s Auto.

Nine trailers or pieces of equipment were recovered in recent days in locations from western Oklahoma to the point of entry north of Copan, Oklahoma, to the Wilson-Montgomery County line.

“They were just scattered,” Lahey said, who valued the recovered equipment at $250,000.

Lahey said as he and Vail were heading into Caney this week from Copan, Oklahoma, they noticed a trailer at the weigh station in Oklahoma. They turned around to check it out and the abandoned gooseneck trailer had been reported as stolen from Owasso, Oklahoma.

Eichinger said it’s been a busy week for his detectives and officers in other jurisdictions locating, identifying and recovering stolen equipment and trailers.

“And it all started from a traffic stop for hauling a wide load,” Eichinger said. “He went beyond the traffic stop and noticed these things.”

“That traffic stop snowballed all this,” Lahey said.

“Their dedication and persistence to it is what solved it,” Eichinger said of Hine, Vail and Lahey.

Labette County sheriff’s deputies and investigators recovered $93,240 in stolen property in the last two months, Eichinger said. This includes the three trailers stolen from the co-op and property taken from three burglaries of one home on York Road in December and January investigated by Hine. More than $8,000 in property was stolen from the home and Hine identified the trio who allegedly stole the goods and was able to locate and recover the stolen property in Missouri.

Fontes is in the Montgomery County Jail in Independence. He was arrested this week during the investigation into the stolen equipment.

Officers suggest that citizens take photos of property and keep a detailed description of it, including serial or VIN numbers. These details can help in identifying property if it’s ever stolen.

 In 1971 J. Standard Baker Quoted " Drivers Towing Trailers  Are Four (4) Times As Unsafe As Those In Cars Alone!