Police crack Ocean View-area theft ring

Ocean View police have filed 56 charges each against a pair of suspects in connection with a widespread series of thefts throughout the Ocean View area in the last two months. Additional arrests in the cases and more than 100 charges against the initial two suspects alone are expected in the coming days.

Shaun Michael Snow, 20, of Georgetown and Joseph A. Marshall, 20, Millsboro were recently arrested on dozens of charges, including trespassing, burglary, theft and illegal use of credit cards in connection with thefts of property and vehicles as far back as the beginning of June and as recently as July 31, centering around Ocean View but including unincorporated areas and neighboring towns.

Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin said the arrests culminated as local and state police began piecing together the connections between a series of thefts of property from yards, vehicles and homes, as well as four car thefts in recent weeks.

“On or about June 13, the Ocean View Police Department received reports of several thefts that had occurred in vicinity of Kent Avenue, within the town limits of Ocean View,” McLaughlin explained.

In one of those cases, on June 13, a resident had his vehicle broken into at his residence, McLaughlin said. The suspects allegedly stole the man’s driver’s license, some credit cards and cash.

McLaughlin said that proved the first break in the case for police, as the credit cards were subsequently used at a number of different businesses between Ocean View and Dover, as well as to purchase what McLaughlin called “police-related items” via an online police supply business located in New York.

OVPD Patrolman 1st Class Justin Norman, assigned as the lead investigator on that case, tracked the credit card purchases in an attempt to find the suspects.

“He spent an enormous amount of time. He really went above and beyond call of duty in this case,” said McLaughlin, “using all of his resources to track down the online purchases that were made.”

With the cooperation of the police supply business and UPS, McLaughlin said, police arranged for an order that had been placed but not delivered yet to be tracked until its delivery at a home at Lewes, hoping to catch the suspects as they received the package. Delaware State Police staked out the unoccupied home for full day, “But they never came to retrieve the package,” he said.

“It ended there for us,” McLaughlin added. “Justin kept digging, but we couldn’t get any other stuff.”

Minor thefts increase, add up for police

The thefts, however, kept adding up. In mid-June, former Ocean View Councilman and Citizens Auxiliary Patrol member Norman Amendt had the license plate and mirrors stolen off his motorcycle, which was parked in front of his home on Kent Avenue. On July 8, a woman living on Daisey Avenue had her car broken into and her purse stolen. Her credit cards were also used.

“We had a number of ongoing thefts,” McLaughlin said. “And at the same time the state police were plagued with similar thefts outside Ocean View, including the thefts of four separate automobiles.”

“It started tying in with bigger and bigger stuff,” he said. “They were getting bolder, stealing cars. There were four cars stolen in a short period. It was getting worse and worse.”

McLaughlin said Ocean View police noticed the similarities in these cases and started working with DSP, Norman combining efforts with detectives from DSP Troop 4 in Georgetown.

Then, July 31, while Ocean View police — including McLaughlin himself — were working late, hoping to catch the thieves in action, they got another break.

“We were working late that night. I was out myself, because we were anticipating them hitting again in the area. And we were hunting heavy, about 10 p.m.,” McLaughlin explained.

They then got a call about an all-terrain vehicle that had been stolen from a home on Muddy Neck Road. McLaughlin said the victim had been offering the ATV for sale at the front of his property when a man drove up in a car and asked for a test drive, saying he’d leave his car behind. The suspect then drove off on the ATV and disappeared. The abandoned car turned out to be one of the four stolen in the area in the prior weeks.

“We were right behind them,” McLaughlin said. “We had the information out on the radio, and we put two and two together and started swarming area, looking for the fourth stolen car — the only one left unaccounted for.”

Witnesses had reported a pickup truck seen driving slowly past the home where the ATV had been stolen, prior to the theft, and the fourth stolen vehicle had been a pickup truck, so police were on the lookout for a pickup truck with an ATV in the back.

“But we didn’t find it,” McLaughlin said.

As a matter of normal procedure, police called contractor J.S. Bennett & Son Towing to have the abandoned stolen car taken to Troop 4’s impound lot as evidence. That’s when things got interesting for tow driver Franklin Bennett, McLaughlin said.

“He was followed by strange vehicle, which he identified as a Ford Mustang. He saw the vehicle in the area when he went to pick up car, and he thinks it’s suspicious that it’s following him at midnight all the way to Troop 4, so he calls 911.”

McLaughlin said state police stopped the suspicious vehicle and found, sitting right in plain view, the helmet that went with the stolen ATV. The driver of the Mustang was arrested and interviewed, and, McLaughlin said, admitted “to a lot of other thefts.”

In addition to the widespread series of thefts revealed by that suspect, the police got information about additional suspects and possible additional stolen property that was reportedly being stored at two locations in the Ocean View area — on Cedar Neck Road at Cedar Bay condominiums and at a house on Central Avenue.

“We were informed that the individuals at Cedar Bay were armed or had access to weapons,” McLaughlin said. So, when the Delaware State Police received search warrants for both residences, he said, “Erring on side of caution, the state police’s special operations response team — the SWAT team — executed the search warrants and raided both of the residences.”

Police found and took into custody a man armed with a handgun who had been hiding in the closet at the Cedar Bay location. Also there, police discovered hundreds of stolen items, including some of the stolen credit cards and the stolen purse.

“That meant we were able to definitively link these guys back to the Ocean View crimes, because the stolen items were in the residence,” McLaughlin noted. He said police now believe the Central Avenue home, which was being used as a residence by international workers, is not associated with the suspects or their crimes, other than as another mostly unoccupied residence that could be used as a drop location.

Additional arrests, charges anticipated

On Wednesday, McLaughlin said the saga of the theft ring was not yet at its conclusion.

“We’re anticipating numerous other charges,” he said. “There definitely will be additional arrests made. I anticipate their crimes in Ocean View alone will exceed 100 criminal charges from thefts inside Ocean View town limits.”

That will be in addition to the charges leveled by state police, who said Wednesday afternoon that they planned to arrest additional suspects on Thursday morning, after Coastal Point press time. Charges against the various suspects involved in the thefts are expected to number in the hundreds.

Delaware State Police detectives said more information on the cases was expected to be released Thursday afternoon.

“Our charges are almost insignificant compared to the charges that the state police are going to have on these individuals,” McLaughlin said. “These guys committed much more serious crimes that are still under investigation by the state police.”

He emphasized that the crimes had increased over time to include both stolen cars and weapons.

“Thankfully, no one was injured,” he said. “It was a growing concern for us as these crimes became more brazen. They went from stealing bikes, and then getting into people’s cars and taking items, to stealing automobiles. They were becoming bolder and bolder, and we are very thankful they were able to make these arrests when they did.

“Knowing these individuals had access to firearms and were purchasing items that were associated with law-enforcement work is disturbing,” McLaughlin added. “Their crime spree and the seriousness of their actions were certainly increasing, and we’re just glad able to get a break in the case.”

McLaughlin particularly highlighted the contribution of tow-truck driver Franklin Bennett to the case.

“The lead he provided really broke the case open,” he said. “He recognized something wasn’t right and took the appropriate action. So often, people are reluctant to make a call to 911 to report suspicious activity. But he had had long-standing contact with police. He works with police on daily basis. And he made the right call when it needed to be made.”

McLaughlin also emphasized the work put in by police on the case.

“It was amazing the hard work Justin and the detectives at Troop 4 put into this. It all came together,” he added. “This is a perfect example of how important it is for law enforcement to work together in Sussex County.

“If it wasn’t for the networking and cooperation that took place between the Ocean View Police Department and Troop 4… These were minor crimes here that individually never made it onto anybody’s radar screen, but collectively amounted to pretty significant crime spree. They put it all together. It’s a perfect example of good police work and cooperation between agencies.”

Potential victims urged to come forward

McLaughlin said Wednesday that the number of items recovered from the Cedar Bay location indicated that, in addition to crimes already reported, there are likely to be more victims out there.

“The investigation is ongoing,” he said. “There’s a strong possibility that there are victims out there that don’t realize that they’ve been victims, that think they may have just lost their wallet or their credit cards.

“I strongly encourage those folks to contact the OVPD and Justin Norman, because we have literally hundreds of items that have been recovered and we are in process of categorizing and cataloging all of those items. It’s a very time-consuming process, and we want to get all of that stuff returned if possible.”

McLaughlin said that if anyone in the area feels their car might have been rummaged through, if they are missing a wallet or a purse from their home or vehicle, they should contact Norman at the OVPD to see if they can match up those missing items to those on a list of recovered stolen items.

“We are looking forward to returning all these stolen items back to the victims,” he said.

Additionally, McLaughlin said he hopes the arrest of the suspects in these many theft cases will send a message to would-be criminals about the wisdom of committing crimes in the Ocean View area.

“I hope it sends clear message to anyone else out there considering committing these types of crime in our area,” he said. “If you commit these crimes in this area, the police are going to come after you. We are going to invest time in these cases, no matter how minor, and we will do everything possible to arrest you.”