Theft investigation on-going

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 2004

GREENVILLE – Law officials from at least 19 agencies, 20 including the State Bureau of Investigation, were on hand at the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office Monday to sift through a mountain of items retrieved following the arrest of three people believed to be connected to one of the largest burglary rings in the state.

Dennis Honeycutt, special agent in charge with the SBI, said there was still a lot of work to be done. &uot;As you can see, we are now in the process of trying to determine where each item belongs.&uot;

With notebooks in hand, officers from agencies up and down the eastern part of the state began the task of digging through the items, trying to match up what was recovered in the search to items on what appears to be an endless lists of stolen items in unsolved burglary cases.

No one knows exactly when this series of burglaries began, but investigators from at least three agencies estimate as far back as 1996.

&uot;It’s going to be hard to determine when exactly the burglaries connected with the three individuals who were recently arrested began,&uot; Honeycutt said. &uot;We know the burglaries can be traced back several years.&uot;

Though there may be no exact date as to the beginning, the major step in putting an end to the burglaries came during the evening hours of Nov. 21 in Bertie County.

Bertie law officers arrested Norris Lenell Mebane, 41, of Greenville; Michael Earl Barnes, 28, of Greenville’ and Robin Lindell Brown, 38, of Robersonville. All were charged with felonious crimes relating to breaking and entering and possession of stolen goods, including first-degree burglary.

&uot;Bertie County did an outstanding job with apprehending these three individuals,&uot; said Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan. &uot;Without the involvement of the individual who stepped in to help and without the quick response from the Bertie deputies on duty, we would still be no closer to solving this than we were two, three years ago.

&uot;Sheriff [Greg] Atkins had his officers up to speed with what was going on and when this happened, the quick thinking on their part made this a success for so many of us,&uot; Jordan said.

In neighboring Martin County, the ring of burglaries had investigators Brian Edmonson and Mike Stalls puzzled for quite some time.

&uot;Like Sheriff Atkins, we were waiting for somebody to make a mistake,&uot; Edmonson, the chief investigator for the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, said. &uot;When I got the call last Sunday night that Bertie had made an arrest, I was very excited.&uot;

Following the flood in 1999, Martin County officials uncovered several dozen safes, but because of the condition they were in, none could be traced back to any of the burglaries – almost all the cases believed to be associated with the ring involved a safe.

&uot;This was just one of the many stumbling blocks we’d run across,&uot; said Edmonson. &uot;Just when you think we’d made a break in the burglaries, it would end up being a dead end. And this was happening in nearly every county.&uot;

No trial date has been set for the three individuals arrested. Agent Honeycutt would not estimate the amount of time left to sort through what has been recovered thus far, but did say the investigation is far from over.

&uot;I do not know if there will be more arrests at this time,&uot; Honeycutt said. &uot;This is still under investigation, but there could be more arrests pending the results of that investigation.&uot;

It is also unclear how many more stolen items remain to be confiscated.

&uot;We’ve worked hard for a long time on this,&uot; said Sheriff Atkins. &uot;However, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.&uot;

From the information received by each agency this newspaper has talked to in reference to the burglaries, an estimated 300 breaking and entering and theft cases are believed to be linked to these three individuals.

The counties believed to be affected by the burglary ring include Beaufort, Pitt, Bertie, Duplin, Wilson, Edgecombe, Wake, Greene, Lenoir, Martin, Washington, Franklin, Farmville, Johnston, Wayne, Onslow, Washington and Nash.