STANLEY Thousands of dollars in tools, trailers, tires and other stolen items are sitting in an impound lot at the Mountrail County Sheriff's Department, waiting for owners to come forward to reclaim them.
The items were among those recovered in investigation that began in July 2012 and involved a rash of thefts in Burleigh, McKenzie, Mountrail and Ward counties and on the Fort Berthold Reservation.
Many of the thefts occurred at construction or oil-field sites and included stolen fuel and fuel tanks, nine vehicles and other large-ticket items. Mountrail County Sheriff Ken Halvorson estimated the total value at hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Mountrail County Sheriff Ken Halvorson, deputy Tim Helmer and chief deputy Corey Bristol stand among a collection of furniture, tools and other stolen items in a county impound building April 4.
Two utility trailers are among stolen items being held in an impound lot by the Mountrail County Sheriff’s Department, which is waiting for a rightful owners to come forward.
A number of items have gone back to their original owners. Halvorson said it is uncertain how much longer his office can hold the remaining impounded items before it becomes necessary to auction them to create more storage space in the county's impound building.
"We would much rather get it back to the rightful owner," said chief deputy Corey Bristol.
Convicted of the multi-county thefts was Daniel Gay, an enrolled member of the Three Affiliated Tribes. He pled guilty and was sentenced in North Central District Court during appearances in March to concurrent sentences of five years, with three years suspended and credit for time served. He had been held in jail since January.
Local and federal law agencies continue to investigate aspects of the case.
The sentences covered the thefts and methamphetamine possession. Among the thefts was a John Deere Gator, flat-bed trailer and about $4,000 in tools in Hope Village in December 2012. Those items were recovered and returned last year.
The break in the case for law enforcement came when Gay was confronted by an oil-field worker while allegedly stealing diesel fuel. The worker obtained a vehicle description and license number that led officers to Gay's residence in February 2013. The department recovered a number of items that it believed to be related to reported break-ins to storage units at rig work sites. Clothing, air conditioning units, heaters, acetylene tanks, tools, generators, diesel were among items were taken.
"The only relief we had from him stealing was when he was in jail," Bristol said. The Mountrail County Sheriff's Department saw its theft reports drop from three to five a day to a few calls a week, he said.
Gay had been in custody at various times in 2013 but was released or bonded out, which created opportunity for additional thefts, Halvorson said.
Bristol said Gay did not appear to have sold many of the stolen items, other than fuel. Multiple socket sets and electrical generators as well as household appliances such as a refrigerator and washer and dryer were among items confiscated by law enforcement.
Mountrail deputy Tim Helmer estimated that 80 percent of the thefts were from oil-field sites. Many of those companies may have simply replaced the items and not filed theft reports, which also makes their return difficult.
"One of the things we want to emphasize is if they have a loss, report it," Halvorson said. "It helps immensely."
Companies or individuals who believe they may have property among the stolen items recovered should contact the sheriff's office with serial numbers, make, model or other identifying information.
Bristol said many of the owners of tools and other items stolen from construction sites in the Bismarck area had labeled them, which is making recovery much easier. The sheriff's department recommends recording serial numbers, taking photos and labeling inventory as a standard practice. Labeling can deter theft by making stolen items more difficult to sell.
The Mountrail sheriff's department also recommends that companies secure equipment when unattended, even if it means removing a trailer hitch or wheel, to discourage theft.