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Grand jury indicts five on truck thefts
May 24, 2006 12:00 am
May 19, 2006 — A Wilson County grand jury has handed down 103 indictments to five individuals involved in a long-running scheme of stealing trucks, trailers and goods from area business, Lebanon police said Thursday.
The truck thievery ring, which was part of a much larger organized crime operation based out of Atlanta, had stymied Lebanon police for years.
But after detectives finally tracked down a key suspect – a person Lebanon police had previously only been able to identify as a "local scout" – and solicited a confession, prosecutors were finally able to present evidence to a grand jury.
"In my 16 years here, this is the biggest case we've had that we've been able to solve," Lebanon Police Chief Scott Bowen said Thursday.
The key witness and conspirator is Jerry Braggs, 50, of Old Hickory Boulevard in Nashville. Braggs is a former Lebanon resident as well as a former employee of a Nashville trucking company, Bowen said.
His background gave him intimate knowledge of locations – in Wilson and Davidson counties – that were potentially less secure than others, as well as detailed information about where and when certain loads of goods would arrive.
Although they don't know how, police said Braggs was able to hook up with the Atlanta crew. He quickly became their eyes and ears on the ground in Middle Tennessee, helping them steal millions of dollars worth of trucks, equipment and merchandise from numerous big-box retailers and other businesses.
Braggs was charged with eight counts of theft of property over $60,000, 19 counts of theft of property over $10,000, and one count of theft of property over $1,000.
Police expect Braggs to turn himself in Friday, Bowen said.
"In the 27 cases we had, he's admitted his involvement in every one of them," Bowen said of Braggs. "He was definitely our problem here."
Others charged by the grand jury were:
· Robert Vaughn, 44, of Griffin, Ga., indicted on six counts of theft of property over $60,000, six counts of theft of property over $10,000 and one count of theft of property over $1,000. Vaughn was also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.
· Benjamin Paul Harris, 36, of Williamson, Ga., indicted on nine counts of theft of property over $60,000 and 12 counts of theft of property over $10,000.
· Luther Slatton, 43, of Griffin, Ga., indicted on two counts of theft of property over $60,000 and five counts of theft of property over $10,000. Slatton was also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.
· Mark Anthony, 29, of Atlanta, indicted on nine counts of theft of property over $60,000, 17 counts of theft of property over $10,000 and one count each of evading arrest, reckless endangerment, unlawful possession of a weapon, vandalism, aggravated criminal trespassing and conspiracy to commit aggravated robbery.
In March, Vaughn and Harris were arrested in Georgia on similar charges. Bowen said they will serve their time there before being extradited to face their charges in Wilson County.
"That could take quite a while," he said.
Slatton and Anthony, though, remain at large.
But Bowen said both names have been added to the NCIC database, "so if they're picked up anywhere in the United States we'll be notified."
"We believe this is a ring, and we believe there are other people involved who just haven't been arrested yet," Bowen said. "But we're fortunate to have this thing come to an end here."
Local thefts ended altogether after a January pursuit, which arose after Lebanon police, running surveillance on affected businesses, caught a suspicious truck attempting to flee Lebanon.
Police chased the truck across five counties before it crashed just before the Kentucky state line.
Bowen said Anthony is believed to have been the driver who managed to escape after the crash.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.