Sheriff: Collaboration Helps Uncoil Elaborate Equipment Theft Ring

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After an extensive and exhaustive investigation, authorities have arrested two men allegedly behind an elaborate, $1.5 million theft ring involving heavy machinery. Thomas Elpers, 62, and his son Andrew Elpers, 36, were arrested on multiple charges including burglary and theft.

The fields are frozen and the dirt is waiting to be tilled and plowed. On Tuesday afternoon, however, it was Vanderburgh County law enforcement who reaped what it sowed.

"It's been a very intense investigation. It's been a very lengthy investigation," said Sheriff Dave Wedding. "Our investigators worked through the holidays but, collectively, we solved one of the largest theft rings in years."

The estimated $1.5 million theft ring was allegedly run by Thomas Elpers and his son Andrew Elpers. The younger Elpers has been identified as the primary suspect, authorities said. Over the last several years, Vanderburgh and Warrick County law enforcement agencies began noticing an increasing number of cases involving heavy equipment, including tractors, excavators and skid steers, being stolen from business and construction sites.

In 2014, the incidents spiked with 9 reported thefts, Sheriff Wedding said. Some of the victims included: Tri-County Equipment, Daylight Farm Supply, Whayne Supply Company and Sulaar Construction. Equipment was either stolen or located in four different states: Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and North Carolina.

Detectives from the Evansville Police Department and Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office began piecing the puzzle together. After reviewing security footage, detectives identified Andrew Elpers as a suspect.

On Dec. 26th, 2014, detectives reportedly observed Andrew Elpers at a local business as he began to case the area and examine a piece of equipment.

"These people were good. They weren't your average, lowball thieves," Sheriff Wedding said. "They studied the businesses and construction sites. They cased them out very well and they knew the equipment. They knew how to get it started and how to take the serial numbers off. They purchased parts for [the equipment] without taking the equipment to the dealership and getting caught."

After learning that Andrew Elpers was reportedly traveling back and forth between Evansville and Madison County, North Carolina, detectives traveled to the property in North Carolina, Sheriff Wedding said. While conducting surveillance of the property, detectives reportedly saw several pieces of stolen equipment scattered around the area. After securing search warrants, authorities seized the stolen equipment located on the North Carolina property as well as Thomas Elpers' property in northern Vanderburgh County.

Much of the stolen equipment found on Thomas Elpers' property was hidden behind the tree line and out of plain view, Sheriff Wedding said. The area surrounding the property is also very rural.

"This is a great bit of police work. This is something that could have been easy to overlook," said Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann. "The officers and deputies that worked on this case did a great amount of work and a very fine job of piecing it all together. Once you have it together and start looking at it, you start to understand it."

After allegedly stealing the equipment, Thomas and Andrew Elpers would sell the goods at discounted prices, Sheriff Wedding said. To avoid suspicion, the father and son would alter the equipment's serial numbers or VIN numbers.

While it may never be known how much was allegedly stolen, authorities have recovered up to 70 pieces of heavy equipment. The equipment is now being stored in a secure facility while detectives try to match the equipment with it's original owner.

"We spent a lot of time on this case, I'm telling you. It kept evolving and evolving and getting bigger and getting bigger," Sheriff Wedding said. "It's an unbelievable case and a real show of collaboration between agencies."

Andrew Elpers was arrested in Madison County, North Carolina on theft and burglary charges. He has since bonded out of jail. Thomas Elpers was arrested in Vanderburgh county on theft and burglary charges. He too has bonded out of jail.

Hermann said federal charges and additional arrests are possible.


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