The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Bureau says five people are in custody for their alleged involvement with a theft ring that spread across eastern North Carolina. Officials believe that over $1 million in equipment was stolen from homes, farms, construction companies and small businesses around the area.
So far, investigators have recovered items worth $537,887.
Over the almost two-year investigation, 19 law enforcement agencies assisted in identifying the five suspects. Two primary suspects, William Thomas Johnson, 48, and Clinton Gray Dawson, 41, both of Plymouth, were arrested in mid-2011. Johnson faces 104 felony counts and Dawson faces 112 felony counts. Numerous other thefts in eastern North Carolina have been solved based on their statements and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.
Also arrested were Michael Anthony Hill, 45, of Windsor, who faces 15 felony counts, and Leon Fitzgerald Davis, 45, of Dunn, who faces 40 felony counts. Timothy Omar Hankins, 45, of Garner, has been charged with six felonies. Charges against all five include felony larceny and felony possession of stolen goods.
The suspects mainly stole grass mowers, lawn equipment, trailers, back hoes, tractors, skid steers and mini excavators. Most of the thefts happened at night after the suspects identified the targeted pieces of equipment during the day.
The Pitt and Beaufort County Sheriff's offices began the investigation in February of 2011, after an increase in citizens' calls about equipment theft. Thefts and recoveries in the case happened in Chowan, Pitt, Martin, Washington, Beaufort, Greene, Craven, Brunswick, Wake, Harnett, Lenoir, Nash, Duplin and Wilson counties; recoveries of stolen equipment occurred as far away as Mecklenburg County.
Inspectors say the investigation is ongoing.