Leesburg police take down auto theft crew

ALBANY -- A crew of armed thieves preying on goods left in cars might just have met the end of its run.

Leesburg Police Department officers executed a traffic stop Sunday that led to the arrest of four men, and seizure of evidence including shotguns, CD players and CDs and other goods left in vehicles, said Lee County Sheriff's Office Investigator Freelon Gay.

The case was broken by the Leesburg police, but its lead investigator on the case, Sgt. Hank Vick could not be reached Wednesday. He was doggedly working on the case, a Leesburg police spokeswoman said on the phone.

Giving credit to the Leesburg police, Gay could only fill in what he knew from the Sheriff's perspective.

"I can only tell you so much, because the case is under investigation," Gay said. "The names of the men are not available. We believe there could be more charges and arrests."

The crew is thought to have been responsible for thefts from vehicles in Lee, Dougherty and Mitchell counties and in Albany and Leesburg, Gay said. He didn't know the exact reason Leesburg police made the original traffic stop, he said.

The kinds of thefts police are investigating are called "entering auto" thefts, police reports state. An entering auto theft involves a thief opening an unlocked car door or breaking a window to enter the car to steal anything of value.

Typically the way this crew worked, one man would drive while others would walk searching for unlocked car doors or anything of value visible on a seat or dashboard, Gay said.

If they needed to, the suspects would break a window to steal from the car, Gay said. The thieves got away with $1,000s in goods probably starting in November, Gay said. The thefts included a gun called the Judge that shoots shotgun shells and .45-caliber long bullets, he added.

"It feels good to get guns off the street," Gay said.