Four Federally Indicted in Vanderburgh Co. Equipment Theft Ring

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Four men have been federally indicted for their alleged involvement in a $1.5 million equipment theft ring that was busted late last year. The two alleged kingpins, Andrew Elpers and Thomas Elpers, also face local charges.

Andrew Elpers, 37, faces 32 counts of interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles and one count of money laundering Thomas Elpers, 62, faces two counts of possession of stolen motor vehicles. Jordan Wedel, 30, is charged with one count of possession of stolen motor vehicles. Jason Habermel, 43, faces four counts of money laundering.

Between April 1, 2012 and December 29, 2014, Andrew Elpers illegally transported 32 stolen motor vehicles, many of which were vehicles used at construction sites and excavation, according to the indictment. Thomas Elpers received, possessed or had in his possession nine pieces of equipment that were stolen, according to the indictment. The indictment also alleges that Jordan Wedel possessed five pieces of equipment that were stolen. Lastly, the indictment alleges that Jason Habermel engaged in money laundering by arranging the sale and delivery of stolen equipment to the Union County Fiscal Court. 

On New Years Eve, just days before announcing the arrests, detectives arrived in Morganfield, Kentucky, located in Union County, to seize six pieces of equipment, five of which were reportedly stolen, according to law enforcement sources. According to records obtained by Eyewitness News, the equipment was purchased over a six month stretch in 2014.

Upon receiving information that some of the stolen equipment was located in Union County, Eyewitness News interviewed Judge Executive Jody Jenkins on January 14th.

“We purchased the equipment through what we could consider a reputable company or group,” Jenkins said.

However, according to records obtained by Eyewitness News, Habermel Equipment was neither a company nor a group. It was one man: Jason Habermel who ‘did business as’ Habermel Equipment.

According to the Kentucky and Indiana Secretaries of State and the Vanderburgh County Recorder’s Office, there is no documentation that supports the official existence of Habermel Equipment. Even if a company is doing business under a fictitious name — or DBA — the owner must file paperwork with the proper county and state.

Despite this, Jenkins and the Union County Fiscal Court did business with Habermel anyway.

As Eyewitness News first exposed, according to documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, the county purchased six pieces of equipment from Habermel over a six month stretch in 2014. The expenditures, which were funded by taxpayer dollars, amounted to nearly $100,000.

In early April 2014, Union County purchased a 2012 “Case 50XB” tractor, records show. However, that model does not exist. Case does make a “CX50B” model. According to purchasing records, Union County paid $19,500 for the equipment. Jenkins signed the check written out to Habermel, according to purchasing records. According to the leading machinery trading websites, the estimated market value for similar pieces of equipment range from $40,000 to $55,000

On April 22nd, purchasing records state the county purchased a 2011 Caterpillar 289C track loader for $19,950. The estimated market value on that piece of equipment is between $36,000 to $50,000, according to equipment trading websites. Jenkins signed the check written out to Habermel, according to purchasing records.

In June 2014, according to purchasing records, the county purchased a Takeuchi skid steer for $16,500. That price is approximately $10,000 less than the estimated market value, according to equipment trading websites.

In July 2014, the county bought a 2013 Case CX55B mini excavator for $19,875. The estimated market value on that piece of equipment exceeds $55,000, according to equipment trading websites. The Fiscal Court approved of the purchase on July 8th. According to law enforcement sources, that same piece of equipment was stolen from Koberstein Contracting, an Evansville-based business, from a job site near Memorial High School. The company purchased the mini excavator for $72,000 in March 2014, company officials said. The equipment was reported stolen on July 3rd, 2014, according to an Evansville Police Department incident report. Days later, the mini excavator was in Union County’s possession for just under $20,000, according to purchasing records.

Prior to uncovering this information, Eyewitness News interviewed Jenkins and asked him about how this equipment was purchased. Jenkins also denied knowingly purchasing stolen equipment.

“We have a model procurement process. Anything, if you’re buying it used that doesn’t exceed $20,000, you look at other comparable pieces of equipment. You look at two other things that are comparable in shape, model or year,” Jenkins said. “There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.”

Purchasing records dispute Jenkins’ claim, considering the well below market value prices the county purchased the equipment for. The ‘company’ that the county did business with also did not exist, according to state records.

All of the equipment was sold for less than $20,000 as well. Under Kentucky’s model procurement laws, anything that exceeds $20,000 must be bid out by the Fiscal Court.

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