Saturday, February 3rd, 2007
By Margie Wuebker
Trio arrested in connection to theft of big screen TVs
A three-month investigation into thefts of large-screen televisions from the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Celina has been completed with the arrest of two men in Fort Wayne, Ind., and a woman in Louisiana.
Darren Valens, 32, currently of Fort Wayne and formerly of Holbrook, N.Y., is being held in Indiana, on a warrant filed by the Celina Police Department. The two counts of theft stem from incidents occurring locally Nov. 17 and Dec. 13.
Authorities believe Valens and Stanley Joseph Chase, 30, also of Fort Wayne, were involved in similar activity at hundreds of Wal-Mart stores throughout Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and Louisiana.
Megan Nicole Ferguson, a friend and suspected accomplice of the pair, is currently incarcerated on theft charges filed in St. John's Parish, La.
Celina Police believe one or both of Valens' accomplices may be implicated locally. However, no charges have been filed as yet.
"We launched an investigation after the first theft and contacted other agencies regarding similar crimes," Chief Dave Slusser told The Daily Standard on Friday afternoon. "By late December it was determined the same suspects had been involved in similar thefts in Van Wert, Fort Wayne and possibly Wapakoneta."
The suspects visited the Celina store Nov. 17 and allegedly used forged receipts to get big-screen televisions past the exit doors.
Ironically, a truck driven by Valens was stopped later the same day by authorities in Adams County, Ind. The truck and the three televisions inside were seized due to suspected fictitious plates, according to Slusser. The property was released several days later when the suspects produced receipts indicating the sets had been purchased Nov. 17 in Celina and Van Wert and a vehicle registration. Only later did they learn the receipts were fake.
The Celina store allegedly became their target again on Dec. 13. Only one of the two visits that day yielded a television. The suspects returned Dec. 14 but store personnel stopped a woman and she took off running through the parking lot. Surveillance cameras picked up the vehicle as well as a license plate number. Those details as well as information gathered from Wal-Mart greeters working at the entrances allowed police to develop suspects.
The suspects were tracked to a Fort Wayne motel but they left over the Christmas holidays, according to Slusser. Authorities soon learned there destination had been New Orleans, where Ferguson was arrested for a similar theft at a Wal-Mart store.
"We learned Fort Wayne authorities were looking at the same people," Slusser said. "Our warrant had been issued and the Fort Wayne investigation was winding down when the two suspects returned."
The men were taken into custody after Valens wrecked his pickup truck in Fort Wayne on Tuesday morning. Police reportedly confiscated his cell phone containing numerous calls, text messages and photographs. Also seized were a stolen computer and monitor as well as multiple fake receipts. According to affidavits filed in Allen Superior Court, a search of the room where Valens and Ferguson had been staying yielded a 37-inch television with surround sound, handwritten notes, ledgers, Internet map printouts and dozens of fake Wal-Mart receipts.
In addition to being held on the Celina warrant, Valens faces charges of corrupt business influence and four counts of aiding in theft. Chase faces two counts of theft and one count each of corrupt business influence, aiding in theft and possession of a controlled substance.
Valens is subject to extradition back to Ohio, according to Slusser.
The trio, who could face charges in other jurisdictions, reportedly used similar methods to make off with televisions and other items. If questioned by cashiers, they would show a fake receipt and explain the purchase had been made in the electronics department.
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