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4 arrested in multi-county theft ring

Four Crawford County men were arrested earlier this month in connection with a multi-county theft ring dating back to at least April.
Deputy Shawn Scott of the Crawford County Sheriff’s Dept. said those arrested ‘ Joseph Dearborn, 46, of Taswell, and Ricky Gray, 59, Scott Froman, 52, and TJ Thomas Lester, 35, all of Eckerty ‘ may be linked to 22 thefts in Crawford and surrounding counties.
The investigation picked up steam after a John Deere tractor and an all-terrain vehicle were reported stolen from property owned by a St. Anthony man along Highfill Chapel Road north of Taswell. That came on the heels of a steady increase in thefts of ATVs, trailers and other items around Taswell north into Orange County.
‘These were mostly all camps that were not occupied on a regular basis,’ Scott said, adding that police ‘assumed that they all had to be related because they were all the same types of things.’
Scott said the owner of the tractor either didn’t have insurance or the insurance didn’t cover theft. Therefore, the owner began driving around to look for the tractor, finding what he believed to be the tractor on Dec. 6 at Froman’s residence, Scott said.
The tractor’s owner, Scott said, photographed the tractor and contacted an Indiana conservation officer.
The next day, when the conservation officer went to the residence, the tractor wasn’t there; however, a group of local hunters told the officer they believed Dearborn, who lived nearby, may have been involved in the theft, Scott said.
The conservation officer and the tractor’s owner drove to Dearborn’s residence, ‘and the tractor is sitting in his yard on a trailer,’ Scott said, adding it had been spray-painted a maroon camouflage color.
After a photograph was sent to a John Deere dealership to determine that it was a John Deere tractor, the officer went to the house and talked with Dearborn. A check on the tractor indicated that it had, in fact, been reported stolen, he said.
While at the house, the officer observed three ATVs in the yard, Scott said, noting that, when checked, two had been reported stolen, one from Crawford County and the other from Pike County. He added that, with a search warrant in hand, officers returned the next day and found property from various thefts dating back to the summer and fall.
During the investigation, police learned of three more possible locations of stolen property in Crawford County. At the residences belonging to Gray, Froman and Lester, officers discovered several items that had been reported stolen, including a John Deere riding lawn mower and utility trailer from Crawford County, an ATV from Dubois County, a Ford truck from Orange County and a Nissan passenger car with a Georgia registration that had been taken from Kentucky, he said.
Also seized was an industrial generator and power washer from Orange County that hadn’t been reported stolen but, through their investigation, officers learned had been illegally taken, Scott said. He added that a sign advertising a 24-hour power washing business had been painted on the power washer, but it is believed that the supposed business was a front to case potential houses to burglarize.
Other items recovered include multiple power tools, road signs and fishing equipment.
Methamphetamine and paraphernalia also were found at some of the residences, Scott said.
Dearborn was arrested on theft charges on Dec. 9, while Lester was taken into custody on a charge of auto theft on Dec. 10. Gray was arrested on Dec. 15 and faces charges of auto theft, common nuisance, possession of methamphetamine and possession of paraphernalia.
Froman was arrested on Dec. 16 on possession of stolen property, maintaining a common nuisance and possession of paraphernalia charges. As of last week, all but Lester, who was released after posting 20 percent of a $7,500 bond on Dec. 16, remained in the Crawford County Jail.
Scott said he expected more persons to be arrested and additional warrants were being issued.
‘There’s a potential of maybe four more,’ he said.
Scott said that, although it appears there had been efforts to remove the identification numbers from some of the stolen equipment, detailed descriptions, including the lawn mower having a large bolt on the throttle and the left turn signal about to fall out, aided police in identifying the items.
‘Numbers can be ground off,’ he said, encouraging owners to make detailed descriptions of their items.
Persons with information concerning this investigation are encouraged to call the Crawford County Sheriff’s Dept. at 1-812-338-2802 or Indiana Conservation Officers’ Central Dispatch at 1-812-837-9536.
The Crawford County Sheriff’s Dept. and Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources Law Enforcement District Eight were assisted by the Indiana State Police, English Police Dept. and Orange County Sheriff’s Dept.