Five teens charged in theft ring

Photo by Laura Williams

Photo by Laura Williams

LEESBURG, Ga. -- Sheriff's deputies answering a pre-dawn call about suspicious men wandering around the Creekside subdivision caught a group of young thieves with ties to crimes in Albany, a Lee County Sheriff's Office investigator said Friday.

"We got a call that suspicious men were walking through yards in the neighborhood with no shirts on," Lee County Deputy Bill Smith. "When deputies arrived, the suspects got into a red Jeep Wrangler and attempted to leave the area."

Deputies stopped the Jeep for a traffic violation, Smith said. The Jeep's occupants -- all between the ages of 16 and 19 -- could give officers no plausible reason for why they were in the area at 3:40 a.m. Friday, he added.

.866Three men, a woman and a girl were arrested for entering auto and theft by taking crimes, Smith said. Two of the men admitted to similar thefts in Albany, he said.

"We called the Albany police and when we questioned them together, two admitted to the thefts in Albany," Smith said. "All in plain sight in the vehicle when stopped, they had about $500 of GPS devices, three MP3 players, a radar detector, designer sunglasses and a Sam's Club card with a photo on it. No one in the vehicle belonged to the card."

Charles Newton, and Justin Berry, both 17, are in the Dougherty County Jail for Albany thefts from autos, Smith said. His office also has a hold order on them at the jail for the early Friday morning arrest, he added.

Newton and Berry are believed to be responsible for more than four entering-auto thefts and for stealing more than $4,000 worth of iPods, radar detectors, tools and GPS devices, in Albany, Albany Police Department Det. Tim Harvey said.

"A couple people have come forward to ID the stolen items," Harvey said. "The Lee County deputies did an excellent job. This is a good example of us working together to solve the crime."

In the Lee County Jail charged with entering auto and theft by taking are Austin Taylor Dent, 17, and Leslie L. Phillips, 19, Smith said. The 16-year-old girl was placed in her mother's custody. All of those arrested are from the Albany side of the county line and the case remains under investigation by both jurisdictions.

There were no drugs or weapons found in the arrest, Smith said. Law enforcement officials from both jurisdictions warned against leaving vehicles unlocked and keeping any electronics or anything else of value, even loose change, in a vehicle.

"Car-hopping, that is the slang for stealing from cars," Smith said. "Parents should know what it means and listen to hear if their children talk about it."