A major theft ring is missing some of its members tonight after police and sheriff's deputies made good on three out-standing warrants. Those warrants charge the suspects with felony theft and organized crime.
The suspects are accused of stealing 18-wheelers in East Texas and then selling their wheels and tires.
Investigators said the crime ring stretches into the South Texas area. The ring is allegedly responsible for around $1 million worth of theft.
"Probably pretty close to the largest one that I know of we've had here," Investigator John Pope with the Shelby County Sheriff's Department said.
Pope and Center Police Detective Stephen Stroud formed a joint investigation after 18- wheelers kept showing up in and out of Center.
The first theft was in county jurisdiction at the Center Airport.
"Then it quickly moved into the city where they stripped another 18-wheeler of all of its tires," Stroud said.
"A new wheel is going for around $380 and a new tire was close to about $400," Pope said. "So you figure they can get close to $700 or $800 a wheel."
For a while it all happened without anyone knowing who was doing it. Then an eagle-eyed amateur detective noticed a U-Haul parked somewhere it shouldn't have been.
"We connected it to Sandy Ratcliff as being the renter," Stroud said.
The investigation tied Sandy Ratcliff of Center to two Houston men: Tarazon Eaden and Terrell Jackson. Eaden holds a commercial driver's license necessary to drive 18-wheelers. All three of them are charged with felony theft and engaging in organized crime.
Stroud and pope said all three saw that they had warrants out for their arrest and then turned themselves in. Investigators are crediting Center's newly developed crime stoppers program here in Center for getting them into custody.
Stroud and Pope said there are probably other people involved in the crime ring. If you have any tips that could help identify more suspects call the Center Crime Stoppers at 936-598-SAFE (7233).