Turnpike traffic stop brings break in stolen-electronics case

10/09/2013 1:07 PM

08/08/2014 10:19 AM

A routine traffic stop on the Kansas Turnpike last month led to an investigation that has linked a Wichita man to cases involving property stolen from retail stores in four states.

The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Interdiction Unit, consisting of four deputies and members of the K-9 unit, stopped a rented 2006 Pontiac on I-35 near Lincoln on Sept. 13 for a traffic violation. The deputies found eight iPads, 11 iPad minis, 14 iPods and eight Samsung Galaxy phones in a briefcase in the car, the sheriff’s office said Wednesday.

Deputies learned the items had been taken from a Wal-Mart in Arlington, Texas, earlier that day.

They arrested the driver, a 34-year-old Wichita man, on suspicion of possession of stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia. A woman from Wichita was with the driver but wasn’t arrested.

An investigation that has been underway since the stop was made, involving several other agencies, has revealed that the pair is suspected of stealing property from retailers in Louisiana, Missouri and Kansas as well as Texas.

The number of stores that reported being robbed wasn’t available. The investigation is continuing. The driver hasn’t been charged. The case could go to federal prosecutors.

The interdiction unit was created in early June to halt criminal activity on major highways bisecting the Wichita metropolitan area.

Sheriff Jeff Easter said the unit is trying to stop drug and human trafficking as well as other crimes while the criminals are in transit and before they reach their destinations.

The unit makes normal traffic stops, then conducts searches if suspicions arise based on what deputies see and learn from the occupants of the vehicles.

Most cases uncovered by the unit lead to federal investigations because multiple states can be involved, Easter said.

In the case of the electronic equipment, deputies searched the Pontiac after interviewing the two people, Easter said.

Their stories about where they had been and where they were going differed, so they were separated, and deputies got the driver’s permission to search the car, he said.

Easter said the new unit has been very productive. Since it was created in June, it has stopped 1,085 cars, and made 30 arrests, including 16 felony arrests.

It has seized 40 pounds of marijuana, an ounce of heroine, a half-ounce of methamphetamine, and a half-ounce of cocaine. The drug seizures came from four of the car stops.

The unit also has recovered two guns and seized $18,700 in U.S. currency, while writing 1,131 citations for infractions, warnings and misdemeanors.

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