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SCSO busts roofing theft ring, seizes $800K+ in supplies

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The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office estimates that a June 14 bust in Northeast Memphis recovered an estimated $800,000 or more in stolen roofing materials, mostly from Arlington but also from the Memphis area and north Mississippi.

Officers have already hauled away five tractor-trailers full of the loot and were loading up a sixth during a press conference on Monday.

At the site, backyard storage buildings, a carport and the fenced-in backyard sheltered a stockpile of about 745,000 roofing shingles, 88,000 rolls of roofing, 12,000 roofing nails, 14,000 aluminum drip rails and rolled trim and 13,000 in stolen lawn equipment. SCSO Public Information Officer Earle Farrell said those estimates are likely on the low side.

Chief Deputy Floyd Bonner commented, “This is almost like going to Lowe’s or Home Depot and going shingle shopping.”

Officers also seized 10 vehicles.

Ten people were in the home when officers arrived, and four were arrested. They included José Lopez of Mexico and Victor Gonzales, Oscar Celallos and Iserel de la Cruz, all of Guatemala.

Celallos, Gonzales and Lopez were each charged with theft of property $1,000 to $10,000; Celallos and Gonzalez did not receive a bond, and Lopez had a $1,000 bond. De la Cruz was charged with theft of property for $2,500 to $10,000 and four charges of aggravated assault, and his bond was set at $100.Lowe’s

Charges may be upgraded as the investigation continues.

Additional suspects are also under investigation, and the SCSO hopes to have more arrests in the case soon, as well as possibly news of other stockpile locations.

“We’ve been watching a long time now,” Farrell said, “but we never could catch them red-handed.”

Interviews with neighbors determined that the well-organized crew had been operating at the house for at least 10 years.

The SCSO was already analyzing data about six to seven recent shingle thefts in Arlington when an Arlington builder notified the SCSO’s ALERT Unit he was dropping a load of roofing shingles at a home construction site last Thursday. He was worried about theft, and the SCSO saw an opportunity to catch crooks in the act.

A stakeout there paid off. Officers watched thieves pick up the whole load and then followed them to the storage site at 4289 Chelsea Ave. Extended, Memphis. (ALERT stands for the Area Law Enforcement and Retailers Team.)

Bonner said search warrants for the Chelsea Avenue house turned up the enormous cache of apparently stolen goods.

“They have all the materials out back to do a roofing job,” Bonner said.

The large two-story brick home appeared to be a transition site for immigrants, according to SCSO reports. People were living upstairs.

It’s the demand for stolen materials that keeps illegal operations functioning, and some area roofers are getting a second look for their participation. Bonner said they are probably not legitimate roofing companies but are instead people who do roofing on the side.

Farrell said, “We’ve seen about 30 different roofing crews pull up and turn around while we’ve had control of the scene.”

Bonner also called on business owners to be involved with his department’s ALERT Unit to fight this kind of crime.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be reviewing the immigration status of the four suspects currently in custody, Farrell said.

Bonner concluded, “We’re not going to stand for this. We will find you. We will catch you. Someone in the neighborhood is going to tell us about it. And when we do, we’re going to prosecute you to the full extent of the law.”