LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - Deputies are investigating what Calcasieu Sheriff Tony Mancuso calls a theft ring stealing items off home construction sites.
So far, two people are in jail but more arrests are expected.
In all, deputies searched about a half dozen homes where they found a wide array of items stolen from home construction sites including power tools, doors, windows, a commercial-grade zero-turn lawnmower, and a Whirlpool stove. Around two-thirds of what has been recovered has been returned to the rightful owners. The rest of the recovered items have been stored in a Sheriff’s Office warehouse.
However, some stolen items - such as flooring, fencing and even columns - have already been installed at other people's homes. The investigation led to the arrest of Azucena Madrigal, 62, of Lake Charles, and Joe Rojo, 30, of Pasadena, Texas. Madrigal faces a count of possession of stolen thing in excess of $25,000 and Rojo faces a count of possession of stolen things from $5,000 but less than $25,000. Judge Guy Bradberry set both their bonds $25,000.
Mancuso says the Sheriff’s Office expects to arrest at least one more person - if not four or five others. “We do believe they’re out of Texas,” he said. “Whether they’re working here or if they’re commuting back and forth to do these burglaries, we don’t know. But they’re stealing everything from bathtubs to windows, doors.”
Mancuso said Madrigal owned several homes currently being remodeled, possibly with stolen items. He says it's a reminder to always record serial numbers of items purchased. "It's so important for you to log those serial numbers because when we have something like this, had we run that lawnmower and it not been stolen, then we'd have left it there and we would not have recovered it,” Mancuso said. Mancuso asks anyone with surveillance video or information to contact the Sheriff’s Office.
Kayla Vincent, Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, said detectives began investigating around 8 a.m. on May 11, after deputies reported a suspicious van in the area of Ham Reid Road, where numerous residential construction sites had been burglarized.
The van was parked at a home Madrigal owned on Aberdeen Road. She allowed detectives to search the home. Detectives found a Whirlpool stove and power tools that had been reported from residential construction sites in the same area, Vincent said.
Madrigal also allowed detectives to search homes she owned on 4th and 6th Street, Vincent said. Detectives found doors and windows valued at more than $10,000 stored inside. Madrigal said they were purchased to remodel the homes, but when detectives contacted the construction companies from which the doors and windows had been purchased, they learned they all had been stolen from residential construction sites in Lake Charles.
Madrigal stopped cooperating with detectives, who obtained search warrants for homes she owned on Rose and Pryce streets, Vincent said. Detectives found building materials and power tools stolen from residential home construction sites in the south Lake Charles area and the zero turn lawnmower, which had been stolen out of Texas.
Lake Charles police are working closely with the Sheriff’s Office on at least two similar cases. They have not yet arrested anyone.