Additional arrests made in alleged theft ring

Published 11:14 am Wednesday, December 19, 2012

RALEIGH — A local man is among five suspects tied to a suspected equipment theft ring.

Michael Anthony Hill, 45, of Windsor was arrested on the heels of an inquiry over a two-year period conducted by the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles License and Theft Bureau. That organization has worked with 19 eastern North Carolina law enforcement agencies to arrest five suspects believed to be involved in the theft ring. Additional suspects are thought to be involved in similar organized activities within the state.

Investigators believe over $1 million in equipment was stolen; so far, they have recovered items worth $537,887. The suspects primarily stole grass mowers, lawn equipment, trailers, back hoes, tractors, skid steers and mini excavators.  They targeted individuals and business owners alike, including farm and lawn equipment businesses, construction companies and other small businesses. Most of the thefts occurred at night after the suspects had identified the targeted piece of equipment during daytime hours.

Two primary suspects in the thefts, William Thomas Johnson, 48, and Clinton Gray Dawson, 41, both of Plymouth, were arrested in mid-2011. Johnson faces 104 felony counts and Dawson faces 112 felony counts. Numerous other thefts in eastern North Carolina have been solved based on their statements and cooperation with law enforcement agencies.

Hill was charged with 15 felony counts. The other two members of the alleged theft ring are Leon Fitzgerald Davis, 45, of Dunn, who faces 40 felony counts, and Timothy Omar Hankins, 45, of Garner, charged with six felonies. Charges against the five include felony larceny and felony possession of stolen goods.

Inspectors say the investigation is ongoing. They encourage anyone who has had contact with any of the suspects or wants to report similar suspicious activities to contact local law enforcement or local Crimestoppers. Victims of equipment theft should call their local DMV License and Theft Bureau.

Sparked by an increasing number of citizen reports of equipment thefts, this investigation was started in February 2011 by the Pitt and Beaufort County Sheriff’s offices. The Pitt County Sheriff’s office initially developed a group of suspects and began tracking their criminal activity. As the investigation began to grow and encompass additional counties across eastern North Carolina, the License and Theft Bureau was called to assist in planning and identifying stolen equipment.

Thefts and recoveries in the case occurred in Chowan, Pitt, Martin, Washington, Beaufort, Greene, Craven, Brunswick, Wake, Harnett, Lenoir, Nash, Duplin and Wilson counties; recoveries of stolen equipment occurred as far away as Mecklenburg County.

The investigation involved the participation and cooperation of many eastern North Carolina law enforcement agencies, including the Martin, Beaufort, Lenoir, Pitt, Brunswick, Nash, Duplin, Wilson, Craven, Washington, Greene, Wayne, Jones and Onslow County Sheriff’s offices; and the Washington, New Bern, Greenville, Winterville and Four Oaks Police departments.