By Sam Rolley
The Cullman Times
The Cullman Sheriff's Office held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce breaks in an investigation into what law enforcement officials have called one of the biggest equipment theft rings in the state's history.
According to sheriff Mike Rainey, the investigation has been under way since January of this year and is linked to thefts dating back to 2004.
Officials say that working in conjunction with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries Investigative Division, the sheriff's office has recovered 27 pieces of stolen property, including: a bulldozer, numerous farm tractors, a number of skid steers and mini excavators, all terrain vehicles, hay mowers, enclosed trailers, and five farm and construction heavy duty trucks. The equipment, which has been given a total value of around $725,000, has been recovered in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, and Tennessee.
"These arrests and the recovery of this equipment, is the direct result of the hard work of the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office and the dedication of Chief Deputy Max Bartlett, Investigations Division Chief Captain Scott Clay, Investigator Doug Duke and Lieutenant Ricky Blackwood, among others," said Rainey. "Additionally, this investigation would not have been so successful without the help of Alabama Department of Agriculture Investigators Kenneth Griffin and Steve McBride, who worked with us as a team to dismantle this widespread theft operation. I would also like to thank Cullman County District Attorney Wilson Blaylock for his assistance and consultation throughout this investigation."
To date, officials have arrested three Cullman County residents related to the theft ring. Joe Allen Mead, 55, of Cullman is charged with two counts of receiving stolen property in the first degree; Jody Allen Mead, 26, of Cullman is charged with one count of theft of property in the first degree and one count of receiving stolen property in the first degree; and Stoney Ray Vincent, 32, of Hanceville is charged with five counts of receiving stolen property in the first degree. The three remain in the custody of the Cullman County Detention Center, each facing a possible sentence of more than 20 years in prison, according to officials.
Paul Pettus, a Hanceville resident who was the victim of the equipment thefts, was at the press event to hear the sheriff speak about the investigation.
"They hit on Saturdays, last Halloween they stole one of my four wheelers," he said. "They got some of them, but I don't think it is only Joe Mead and them. They had a lot of help and I think it all goes back to the crystal meth trade, I think all this stuff was being sold for drugs."
According to Pettus, Mead was involved in doing heavy equipment repairs for a number of individuals in the area — law enforcement could not confirm these allegations.
The sheriff said that at this time he had no reason to believe that the thefts were drug related, though because the investigation is ongoing future developments may be made.
"This case is still an ongoing investigation and we anticipate presenting additional cases to the Cullman County Grand Jury, and making additional arrests in the future," said Rainey. "I encourage persons that may have information regarding this case, or who may have previously purchased equipment from those who we have already arrested, to contact the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office as soon as possible."
* Sam Rolley can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone at 734-2131 ext. 225.