Four men in Vanderburgh County, Indiana, have been federally indicted for running a $1.5 million equipment theft ring after being arrested at the end of 2014.
One of the group’s leaders, 37-year-old Andrew Elpers, has been charged with 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.
Also indicted were Jordan Wedel, 30, who was charged with one count of stolen motor vehicles and Jason Habermel, 43, who faces four counts of money laundering.
Andrew Elpers transported 32 stolen motor vehicles, mainly the kinds used at construction sites, across state lines between April 1, 2012 and December 29, 2014.
Thomas Elpers was on hand in Morganfield, Kentucky, located in Union County and right over the border from Indiana, to receive the vehicles.
Habermel’s role in the ring was to “do business as” Habermel Equipment, even though he had no paperwork for such a business on file with the Kentucky and Indiana Secretaries of State and the Vanderburgh County Recorder’s Office.
The group was caught when Judge Executive Jody Jenkins and the Union County Fiscal Court did business with the group, assuming they were a “reputable company,” according to Jenkins.
Total expenditures for the purchases, which were funded by taxpayers, were nearly $100,000.
For example, Union County purchased a tractor for $19,500 from Habermel, which according to machinery trading websites could have gone for $40,000 to $55,000. Similar items also went for under $20,000, as anything over that amount must be bid out by Fiscal Court, according to Kentucky’s state laws.
Much of the equipment was stolen from rental lots, where it can be obtained for a low cost, or from construction sites.
A similar theft took place in April in Norwalk, Connecticut, where $23,000 of equipment was taken from a middle school construction site. According to police, a jackhammer, demo saw, two lasers, tripods, a target saw and a plate tamper were all stolen from a storage container at the job site.
But it’s not just smaller tool rentals that can occur — even backhoe and Bobcat equipment rental services have to protect themselves from these threats.
Recently a new system from the Equipment Rental Industry Group was released to such businesses to help them prevent theft schemes from taking place on their lots. Their information-sharing message board allows businesses to get the latest news on potential scams, so they can protect their inventory.
One theft was prevented, for instance, when a man claimed to be a courier from a company and wouldn’t show his driver’s license to the rental service. But when employees called the actual business, the business confirmed that no one by that name worked for the company.