Farmington police break up widespread burglary ring
Farmington police have broken up a ring of at least a dozen men and women who they say have committed multiple burglaries and stolen thousands of dollars through check forgeries and identity theft.
In the past week, police have charged Farmington residents Jacob Hoffbeck, Doran Ritzman, Austin Hall, Cody Swanson, Matt Carlson and Meagan Weiss, Minneapolis resident Brian Doerfler and Northfield resident Jordan Schultz. Charges are pending on at least three more individuals associated with the ring, Farmington police officer Shawn Scovill said. The motive, Scovill said, was that they needed money or items to sell for drugs. Most of the suspects have a history of drug use.“These are people who depend on each other for the drug use,” Scovill said. “They have nothing to lose.”Recovered itemsTwo tables at the Farmington Police Department are lined with items confiscated through search warrants, as police try to figure out what items belong to which victims, and just how many victims they still have to locate.Knives, printers, tools, cell phones, computers, jewelry and watches, gold goblets and a police duty belt are among the items officers found while executing the search warrants. There are also dozens of checks, cash cards, credit cards and other personal, confidential information about the victims.A total of six search warrants have been issued throughout the investigation. Scovill estimates the recovered items and information comes from 50 or more victims. The police know the items are affiliated with at least eight burglaries in the area, but Scovill said it’s hard to know just how many victims they really have.“Honestly, I don’t know how many. That’s the process we’re in right now, trying to identify them,” he said. “If you start getting into the checks and the mail theft … my best guess is 50-plus.”Putting a pricetag to the stolen items is equally hard. Especially when it comes to figuring out how much the suspects may have stolen through forged checks and credit card fraud.Scovill said some members used the Target security breach to their own advantage. In the days that followed the announcement, as banks issued new cards to their members, the suspects would go out and check mailboxes, looking for letters with new personal identification numbers from the banks. A week later, they would go back to those same residences and take the cards.They also watched mailboxes attached to homes in the downtown area. If they saw a flag up on a mailbox, they knew there was outgoing mail. They would steal any outgoing checks or bills they found.“They would take the routing number and make their own checks,” Scovill said.Scovill said police know of one incident where suspects were able to cash a fraudulent check for $3,000. In another incident, they broke into a deceased woman’s home during her funeral and took her personal information. That information gave them access to nearly $50,000. Police are still trying to figure out how much of her funds were stolen.“We’re looking at tens of thousands of dollars,” Scovill said. “Between the value of the property that’s been stolen and the amount of money from the check cashing, it’s literally in the tens of thousands.”By the numbersScovill is a member of the FPD’s street crimes unit, along with officers Chris Lutz and Andy Bellows. The team was put together last fall, when a series of burglaries were reported in a concentrated part of the downtown area.The unit has been investigating these crimes since October. In that time, they have identified 33 individuals who were known to have contact with the central suspects. All of the individuals had histories of drug use, burglary or crimes of violence, Farmington police detective Lee Hollatz said.The investigation has involved nine law enforcement agencies in three counties. Police are charging the various individuals with seven different types of crimes — forgery, possession of stolen property, burglary, motor vehicle theft, disorderly house, drug crimes and interfering with a search warrant.So far, 13 complaints have been filed, and more charges are pending, Hollatz said.On Tuesday, the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force contacted Farmington police and offered to aid in identifying the financial crimes victims. Police are also asking that anyone who suspects they have had mail stolen or have been victims of check forgery please call the Farmington Police Department.