An undercover investigation by the Greenup County Sheriff’s Department has resulted in three Ohio men being indicted on vehicle theft charges, and Sheriff Keith Cooper said Friday that additional arrests are expected.
“I think we’re going to see multiple other charges in the next couple of months,” he said. “It goes a lot deeper.”
At a news conference Friday morning, Cooper said the investigation began about four months ago with a tip from an informant. Posing as someone who deals in stolen vehicles, Cooper was able to purchase six of them — a Dodge Ram pickup, a Toyota 4Runner SUV, a Chevrolet Silverado pickup, a Nissan Titan pickup, a Harley-Davidson trike and a John Deere Gator side-by-side ATV.
All six of the vehicles were displayed in the public parking lot adjacent to the Greenup County Courthouse during the news conference.
Cooper said four of the vehicles were stolen from Ohio and two were taken from locations in Ashland. All four were purchased by him at locations in Greenup County, he said.
Last week, Cooper said, Deputy Darrell McCarty presented information on the thefts to a Greenup County grand jury, which returned indictments against three suspects:
Shawn A. Delong, 35, of Pedro, Ohio, was charged with felony receiving stolen property in connection with the theft of the Harley. He was also charged with second-degree persistent felony offender.
John P. Blair, 34, of Ironton, was charged with three counts of receiving stolen property in connection with the thefts of the Nissan, the Toyota and the Chevy.
Gregory C. Cox, 32, of Ironton, was charged with two counts of receiving stolen property in connection with the thefts of the Dodge and the Gator, and with two counts of first-degree persistent felony offender.
The receiving stolen property charges are all Class C felonies that carry prison sentences of five to 10 years. A grand jury indictment is a formal accusation of a crime and does not establish guilt.
Cooper said Blair was in custody in Ohio and was the only one of the suspects who had been apprehended as of Friday.
The investigation was conducted in cooperation with several other agencies, including the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The NICB, which serves as a link between law enforcement and the insurance industry, provided the money for some of the purchases, Cooper said.
The investigation marked at least the fourth time during Cooper’s 16 years in office that the sheriff has been able to make undercover buys of stolen vehicles. He had a couple of theories he said thought might explain why criminals were still willing to sell to him, even though he is a fairly recognizable figure in the law enforcement community.
For one thing, he said, “The money blinds them. When you flash them a bankroll and they know you can pay them right away, it blinds them to who I really am.”
Also, Cooper said, when suspects aren’t immediately arrested after making the first sale of a hot vehicle, they tend to assume it’s okay to continue to sell to that person.
Cooper said the suspects sold the vehicles to him for a fraction of what they’re worth. For example, he said he paid $4,200 for the Harley and the owner paid $15,000 for the trike conversion alone. He said all of the vehicles would be returned to their rightful owners.
Asked whether he thought the thefts were linked to drug activity, Cooper replied: “Pretty much everything around here is linked to drug activity.”
KENNETH HART can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2654.