For nearly six weeks this fall, they crisscrossed the Utah-Idaho border, terrorizing strangers in their paths.
The thieves left one Logan woman cowering in her bed, ambushing and then robbing her while she had been asleep. One Hyrum man was home when they broke in to steal only $23. A Preston, Idaho, man was chowing on a chicken leg when they broke into his vehicle and stole his two rifles and two shotguns.
At first glance, the sudden spike in property crimes in both states may appear unrelated. The crimes included burglaries of businesses, homes and cars. Everything from guns to electronics and prescription medications had been taken, and there were even drive-by shootings in Logan.
But as investigators met, they noticed the makings of a crime spree.
<iframe width=”425px” height=”300px” scrolling=”no” src=”https://www.google.com/fusiontables/embedviz?viz=MAP&q=select+col11+from+2818486+&h=false&lat=41.881241749806236&lng=-111.82986799999998&z=10&t=1&l=col11”></iframe>
The cases were a type of “ultimate who-done-it type crimes,” said Cache County Sheriff’s Lt. Chad Jensen. It appeared the suspects were simply driving up and down roadways, picking victims at whim. Investigators also suspected the thieves were scuttling back and forth across the border.
“Part of it is a thrill and part of it is to get money,” Jensen said.
By the time investigators caught up with them, in less than two months, authorities allege four men and one juvenile had among them committed close to 200 crimes that dipped as far south as Ogden to as far north as the Pocatello, Idaho, area according to charging documents filed in both states. Authorities said the crime spree, which caused the crime rates in the small communities to suddenly spike, was among the largest investigators have seen.
“Crimes like that are pretty devastating to our community,” Jensen said. “Burglaries tend to bother people the most because somebody is entering your home. You’re violated.”
Three men — Leonel Martinez Jr., 19, of Lewiston; Hector Daniel Diaz, 20, of Preston, Idaho; and Jose Antonio Padilla, 18, of Preston, Idaho — and a 17-year-old from Franklin, Idaho, face a number of felony charges in Utah, Idaho or both states in connection with the spree. Antonio Orozco-Cruz, 29, of Lewiston, faces 20 felony charges in Utah for illegally possessing firearms and stolen items and one count of burglary.
Federal authorities have launched their own investigation, reportedly focusing on the firearm thefts and the armed robberies.
Some of the men had previously had a few bumps and scrapes with the law — one now also has an immigration hold — but nothing that would have indicated they were capable of allegedly causing so much chaos, court records show.
Perhaps the most discomforting part of the entire spree was the arsenal of weapons the men allegedly managed to accumulate without much effort. By the time authorities closed in, investigators estimate they had stolen as many as 40 guns.
At some point the thieves likely realized they’d have a steady stream of stolen weapons, said Todd Garbett, Franklin County, Idaho, prosecuting attorney. Their alleged crime spree — whether by accident or design — coincided perfectly with the region’s deer, elk and turkey hunting seasons, he said.
“They hit the jackpot,” Garbett said. “Based on our investigation, they were specifically targeting guns. I think from one house [in Utah they stole] 18 to 20 guns in one place.”
The men allegedly had arranged a network about two months earlier in which they could dispose of the stolen guns for money, no questions asked.
Diaz allegedly told Idaho investigators that he and Padilla had agreed to sell 10 or 11 rifles to Orozco-Cruz for $1,000, according to charging documents. They also planned to sell three pistols for $300 each. But when Diaz went to deliver the guns, he said Orozco-Cruz proposed trading $1,000 worth of methamphetamine for the guns. Diaz said he told Orozco-Cruz he wanted cash, documents show.
Jensen said investigators also believe some of the guns were being sold to a man in California.
“Eventually [those stolen guns] get into those people’s hands that need them,” said Lt. John Ganske, commander of the investigation division for the Idaho State Police. He noted that stolen guns often end up in the hands of other criminals.
In the end, police say they busted the crime spree when one of the suspects accidentally attempted to sell a stolen gun back to the victim. Jensen said from there it was a domino effect, as each man ratted out the others.
Ganske said investigators don’t yet know for sure how many crimes the men were allegedly involved in. Logan Assistant Police Chief Jeff Curtis said investigators in the border region continue to work together — in this matter and on others.
“Obviously there’s a myth and perception the border will stop us from pursuing violators into a different state,” he said. “Once a month we get together with all the administrators in the area. That’s part of what assists in clearing it up. It laid a lot of people’s minds at ease when they found those Utah kids.”
Garbett said the difficulty has been sorting through which man is responsible for what because not every man was involved in every crime. Cache County prosecutors, meanwhile, are weighing whether to seek to certify the juvenile, who was allegedly involved in at least one home invasion robbery and is being held at juvenile detention facility in Utah, as an adult.
“They were very busy,” Garbett said. “They were all pretty young. What a way to get involved in the criminal justice system at that age. What a doozy. I’d imagine they’re going to be locked up for a while.”
Franklin County, Idaho
Source: Cache County Sheriff’s Office