Cops smash Parkrose-based multi-million dollar theft ring

Get the whole story right here – with more exclusive photos than you’ll see anywhere else. See how this bust really left these alleged crooks “up in the air”

Everything holding up this Parkrose neighborhood house – from the wooden cribbing to the smallest clamp – is stolen, police say.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
It’s the afternoon of February 17, and some Portland Police Bureau (PPB) detectives and officers are getting “writer’s cramp” documenting huge quantities allegedly stolen merchandise – while other team members get a physical workout inventorying the stuff – at a jacked-up house in the Parkrose neighborhood.

Trucks line the narrow street near 4708 NE 109th Avenue, about a block south of NE Sandy Boulevard, as folks from construction supply firms stop by to reclaim stolen merchandise.

It isn’t merely a matter of a couple of swiped boxes of nails, or a couple of purloined door knobs, at this crime scene. To learn the astonishing extent of these alleged activities, read on …

Police say they believe that the rebar was stolen as recently as the night before the bust; the cribbing was swiped from Clackamas-based mega-mover Emmert International.

Eight-month investigation ends in Parkrose
PPB Public Information Officer Lt. Kelli Sheffer offers provides background about the multi-agency investigation that led to six search warrants being executed, and property being recovered from seven locations in the Portland metropolitan area.

“This was the culmination of an eight-month-long investigation into one of the largest burglary, identity theft, and stolen property fencing operations in recent history,” Sheffer says.

Portland Police Bureau Detective Jeff Bender reveals details of this case – said to be one of the largest local theft rings in recent history.

At the site, Detective Jeff Bender fills in the details.

“This case began, ironically, with a car prowl. The Port of Portland arrested an individual last summer [as he was] doing a car prowl.”

In and of itself, that was a “fairly benign” bust; but Bender said it led to the arrest of another individual, Michael Pavlicek.

“Pavlicek’s arrest led to the recovery of about $1 million in stolen property – and he got a 10-year prison sentence. And because of that particular case, we started to pay attention to the folks who live at this address,” Bender reveals.

The owner of this house did follow the rules by taking out building permits, records show. But, police say, they were a little careless about the rules in using them. All the materials used in this massive “home improvement project” were stolen.

The investigation began in earnest around last August. Ironically, according to City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services, the owner of the home, listed in City title records as Steven M. Terrill, did apply for – and eventually was granted – a building permit to replace the front porch, raise the house one foot, and add an auxiliary living unit in the basement.

Bender continues, “Over the course of the next four to six months, Detective Mark Georgioff and I developed a lot of intelligence information that led us to the search warrants that we executed today.”

Brand new lumber and pressboard sheets are on steel pallet racks, as if on display at a home-improvement store.

Allegedly stolen merchandise fills huge online store
In addition to accusing the perpetrators of large-scale commercial thefts, thefts from construction-related companies, and residential burglaries, Bender alleges the prime suspect worked with a “professional shoplifting” ring.

“These are ‘boosting crews’ that would steal numerous items from retail stores. Most of the goods, we believe, were delivered to this particular address. From there, the merchandise was moved out to various storage units, or other private residences, until they were sold.”

In addition to accusing the suspects of privately fencing the pilfered goods, Bender tells us these people were prolific sellers on various Internet sites, such as eBay and Craigslist.

“We’re still putting figures together, but we do know that, in 2009, this particular group made about 90,000 sales on eBay. That would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.1 million in sales. We don’t yet have the figures for other sales – but we know that’s going to hit [near] the million-dollar mark, too.”

Officers remove what they say are parts of a brand-new chandelier from the house.

There’s significant profit in selling stolen merchandise, Bender points out. “A box of Crest White Strips retails for about $40 to $50 a box. They buy them from the ‘boosters’ [shoplifters] for about $5, and resell them for $25 on eBay. Locally, if you bought the White Strips from an independent market, at a severely undercut price, you might assume those are stolen.”

Because the suspects were likely shipping merchandise out of the state, we ask if this has caught the attention of federal law enforcement authorities.

“There are some federal authorities who are looking into this particular case, and other cases that have arisen out of this,” Bender replies.

Officials say accused “Safeway Shoplifters”, 52-year-old Richard L Remington and 32-year-old Angela Evans — arraigned on February 17 in Multnomah County Circuit Court on organized retail theft on 22 counts of first-degree theft and one count of third-degree theft – fenced stolen goods at the Parkrose house in the past, detectives say.

‘Safeway boosters’ thought to be involved
Asked of the couple, recently arrested for stealing from Safeway stores, were involved with the Parkrose operation, Bender says he believes they were in the past.

“That group was peripherally involved with some of the operations that happened here. We believe that, at least in years past, they had delivered some product to this particular group; and it was sold on eBay.”

Some construction materials returned
In addition to the consumer retail goods, Bender accused the Parkrose ring of stealing or fencing all kids of construction equipment, “tools from big to small. “We have everything from giant compressors and welders, to a battery powered drill.”

Looking up at the house, towering 12 feet above its former foundation, Bender remarks, “We believe the wooden cribbing was stolen from Emmert International; we’re still investigating were the lifting jacks came from. Everything you see under the house is stolen, including the steel I-beams, the rebar – down to the smallest clamp. Right now, we have no idea how we’ll remove the materials from under the house.”

Already, just that day, Bender says, officers returned in excess of $50,000 worth of stolen items to business owners.

Ken Munson of Pacific Building Products says he’s surprised to have his stolen merchandise returned.

“I was shocked when they told me they had all of my stolen stuff,” says Ken Munson, from Pacific Building Products – located west of the location on N. Columbia Boulevard.

“I’ve already hauled four sliding glass doors, and there are probably that many more – plus a dozen windows, back there. They must’ve had a big trailer, a truck, and a lot of people to steal all the windows and glass doors off our lot last fall.”

Munson said he was “amazed”, looking at the material at the site. “I never thought that I would see my merchandise again.”

Says ‘timing was right’
As we watch about a dozen officers and detectives load out and document truckloads of allegedly stolen merchandise, Bender describes why they waited, until today, to make the busts.

“The timing was right, in that every day they continued to operate was another day that there were going to be more victims,” explains Bender. “It took us a while to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. We felt like we had to move on this case, to ‘stop the bleeding’.”

PPB East Precinct Sgt. John Scruggs and Officer Jeffrey Pontius pause before loading an entire retail display rack of allegedly stolen building adhesives.

Parkrose Hardware pitches in
When we ask if nearby Parkrose Hardware was victimized, Bender said he thought not, because the theft ring didn’t want to raise suspicion in the immediate neighborhood.

“But, the owners of Parkrose Hardware have been very helpful. We ran into the suspect in the store by accident. The store provided us with some helpful information when we were there.”

The day of the bust, Bender added, “The store was kind enough to allow us to give us space to host [victimized] business owners this morning, before we brought them to this site, to recover their stolen property. They also offered up the use of a Bobcat so we could load some of the heavier items. We haven’t needed it – so far – but the day isn’t over.  We really appreciate their support.”

Throughout the day, and into the evening, police continue to pick, catalog, and load evidence into a truck.

Says good police work leads to successful outcome
About the bust, Bender says, “This is really satisfying. It is amazing to me that a case that began with something as small as a car prowl can lead to the arrest of dozens of people, and the recovery of millions of dollars in stolen property.

“It also points to the good work Portland’s police officers do every day, even on the smallest cases. I also think that it sends an important message: ‘Every call you make, to report suspected crime, makes a real difference’.”

The theft ring’s accused “ringleader” 38 year-old Steven Michael Terrill, and alleged accomplices 33-year-old Ethan Andrew Curtis and 20-year-old Alisha Metro face a variety of criminal charges.

Suspects identified
Lt. Sheffer later names 38 year-old Steven Terrill as the “ringleader of a network of individuals who committed multiple thefts at both commercial and residential properties.”

Terrill, along with other individuals, Sheffer adds, are alleged to be involved in vehicle thefts, creating fake credit cards, and selling stolen property on popular websites such as Craigslist and eBay.

“33-year-old Ethan Curtis and 20-year-old Alisha Metro were also arrested for their involvement in these alleged crimes,” adds Sheffer.

MCDC records indicate Terrill and Curtis remain in custody, Metro has been already been released from jail.

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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