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Police officer involved in auto theft ring

Nine local suspects arrested

    A Statesboro Police officer was among nine local suspects indicted on auto theft ring charges.  Advanced Patrol Officer John Fitzgerald Jones, 43, Meadowlark Circle, was placed on administrative leave without pay after his arrest on charges of conspiracy, possession of counterfeit state securities (vehicle titles) and making false statements.
    After being notified of the indictment, Jones turned himself in, said Statesboro Police Chief Stan York.
    Others were taken into custody Tuesday morning around 7 a.m. when "arrest teams" formed from Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Bulloch County Sheriffs investigators and Statesboro Police officers, he said.
    York said after three days on administrative leave, further disciplinary consequences for Jones would be up to the Statesboro city manager, "pending the outcome"  of the case.
    Jones' work performance did not reflect his involvement in the case, he said. Jones " was a veteran officer, and has been with us seven and a half years." He was arrested after turning himself in at the Statesboro Police department. Jones is married to Karen Jones, deputy magistrate judge for Bulloch County, he confirmed.
    York held a press conference later Wednesday afternoon and expressed disappointment over one of his officers being involved in the crimes.
    "It is very disheartening when anyone you put trust into" commits a crime and violates " a code of ethics. It brings a dark cloud to us. And sad enough to say, a couple of former officers" as well as Jones were involved as well,  he said. "When you see that happen, it's not a good day for us."
    York said actions such as Jones is charged with will not be tolerated in his department. "We will clean our own house," he said. "We fully cooperated with this investigation. I hate it when anybody, especially an officer, brought this dark cloud to us. But every now and  then you get one who doesn't adhere (to a code of ethics) and makes a bad choice."
   
Former officers, towing company owners involved
    The two-year investigation began with a citizen complaint and the information was turned over to  the FBI, he said.
    The people charged are suspected of taking stolen vehicles, changing VIN (Vehicle Identification Numbers), then reselling the vehicles with counterfeit titles.
    Some people purchasing the altered and stolen vehicles sold or  gave them back to the suspects, then reported them stolen themselves, according to  the indictment.
    Jones was among 23 suspects, including eight other local suspects, listed on an indictment recently unsealed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.
    The  two former Statesboro police officers  also listed on  the indictment are John Allen Williams, Jr., 37, of Marietta, was arrested in connection with the incident and Allen Michael Tillman, 30, of Bluffton, South Carolina, was indicted as well. Tillman was not among 13 suspects who faced United States Magistrate Judge G. R. Smith Wednesday in federal court in Statesboro.
    Also charged were at least three Statesboro area towing company owners: Troy Edenfield, 34, Cherry Street, who owns Knockout Towing; his brother Wesley Edenfield, 36, Hawthorne Road, who owns Eagle Towing; and Archie Finch Jr., Finch 58, Portal, owns Archie's Wrecker Service.
    York said the towing company owners were "friends" and that  the majority of suspects charged came from  Statesboro and surrounding area.   "I do know (Troy Edenfield) was one of the main persons involved" in the ring, he said.
      United States Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Edmund A. Booth, Jr., and  Atlanta  Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Gregory Jones announced the return of a 56-count indictment by the Federal Grand Jury in Savannah Wednesday.
    The indictment charged 23 suspects with conspiracy " to commit offenses against the United States, including trafficking in stolen motor vehicles ... alteration of motor vehicle identification numbers (VINs)  ... trafficking in motor vehicles with altered VINs ... possession of counterfeit state motor vehicle titles with the intent to defraud ... and false statements to investigating federal law enforcement officers ..." 
    Booth said the indictment was returned under seal  Dec. 13 and was unsealed Tuesday following the arrest of the 23 suspects.
    Other area residents charged include Taryn Marie York, (no relation to Chief Stan York) 23, South Wynn Road, Brooklet, Brian Daniel Hunt 24, South Wynn Road, Brooklet;  Jimmy Lee Everett, 39, West Lee Street, Brooklet; and Daisy Victoria Scott, 31, Dover Road, Sylvania.
    Also indicted are area residents Randall Lee Chambers, 46, Metter; Justin Wayne Prince, 24, Statesboro; Woodard Hook Lewis, 49, Statesboro;  and Robert Dwayne Prince, 47, Statesboro.
    The following  were also charged:  Ronnie Lee Jr., 23, Hart Avenue, Savannah;  Adisha Jabari Bryant, 29, Louisiana Street, Savannah; Willie Battiste Jr., 44, Peebles Road, Pooler; and Terry Levan McCoy, 31, Crystal Drive, Rincon.
    The investigation spanned not only Statesboro and Savannah but metro Atlanta, South Carolina and Texas, York said.
    Booth said FBI special agents also arrested Leon Spencer Patterson, 39,  Snellville; Wesley Bernard Aikens,31,  Union City;  and Jeffrey Lee Gaines, 40,  Pampa, TX. 
    "Each of those individuals will appear before a United States Magistrate Judge in the district of arrest for initial appearance," he said.
    Others charged in the indictment include Jermaine Van Gardner, 34, and Charlie Simmons, 49, both of Savannah.
    An indictment is "only an accusation and is not evidence of guilt,"Booth said.  "The defendants are entitled to a fair trial, during which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
    Statesboro FBI Special Agent Marcus Kirkland led the investigation, he said.  "The Georgia Department of Revenue Auto Theft Unit, Savannah Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Statesboro Police Department, and the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office provided substantial assistance to the FBI in this matter."
    Assistant United States Attorney R. Brian Tanner represents the U.S. government in the case, he said.

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