A joint investigation by three Island police departments into thefts of tools and equipment from job sites across Martha’s Vineyard ended Saturday with the arrests of three Island teens.
Police arrested Glenn Goulart, 18, of Edgartown, one male juvenile from Edgartown and one from West Tisbury, in connection with a series of thefts that began in October and extended through January.
Mr. Goulart was arraigned in Edgartown District Court Monday on multiple counts of breaking and entering, larceny over $250, malicious destruction of property, breaking into a boat/vehicle, and conspiracy to commit a crime.
The two 16-year-old boys were arraigned in juvenile court Tuesday. Each was released on $300 bail. They will return to court on March 27.
Laura Marshard, Cape and Islands assistant district attorney, told The Times her office always seeks full restitution in cases where people’s livelihoods have been disturbed or interrupted and would do so in this case. “That has been paramount since this spree began,” Ms. Marshard said.
Police place the estimated value of the items recovered so far from five different locations at more than $50,000. The crime spree left police at a loss for a motive.
Police said they have learned nothing to indicate the young men had planned to do anything with the equipment or had attempted to sell it.
“There is really no reason why, other than the fact that they wanted to take the stuff,” West Tisbury police chief Dan Rossi told The Times. “I do not know what their motive was. I can’t understand what they were going to do with it. They couldn’t even give an answer.”
The investigation involved the coordinated resources of Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Chilmark police. In a press release, Chief Rossi praised the collaborative effort and took note of the hours that detectives and officers from three towns devoted to solving these property crimes that affected working people who were left without their tools.
The string of thefts from construction sites and boats began last October. As they continued through the winter months, police began sharing information and cautioning workers to secure tools even as they ramped up their efforts.
Police set up a surveillance camera at one Edgartown landscaping business, only to lose the camera to the thieves.
Based on evidence gathered, officers regularly looked at the tires of cars parked in lots, hoping to find a vehicle with one odd tire tread. And they staked out construction sites.
Last month, detectives from the three departments began to meet regularly in an intensified effort to catch the thieves. Police attention focused on individuals who might be drug users or after quick cash.
“All three departments put a lot of hours into trying to solve this, and they (the three teens) weren’t even on the radar,” Mr. Rossi said.
The break police needed came Friday, January 28, when West Tisbury police officer Matthew Gebo noticed a vehicle towing a log splitter that matched the description of one reported stolen in November. The tow was without a proper trailer plate.
Officer Gebo stopped the vehicle and spoke to the driver, Glenn Goulart, according to a police press release. Mr. Goulart claimed to have recently bought the splitter.
Officer Gebo issued a verbal warning to the driver. Further investigation by Officer Gebo and detective Russell Ventura confirmed the splitter was a match to an item on the list of stolen tools.
On Saturday, February 12, police began to interview Mr. Goulart at the police station. In what would continue to be a team effort, police from the three departments spoke to Mr. Goulart. He admitted to several thefts and told the officers where the items could be found, police said.
Saturday, search warrants in hand, Chilmark, West Tisbury, and Edgartown police went to five locations around the Island, including the homes of the two juveniles.
Multiple conversations with the three teens — none of whom had previous criminal records — revealed the extent of their thievery, police said. Police learned of several thefts that had yet to be discovered and reported.
“All three involved were very cooperative,” Chief Rossi said. “They pretty much confessed to everything.”
A garage full
No one station house was large enough to accommodate all the recovered goods. On Sunday morning, Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Chilmark police sifted through hundreds of items spread out on the floor of an Edgartown public works department garage, in an effort to match stolen items with police reports.
Police said the thefts illustrate the importance of recording serial numbers and saving model numbers. Absent that information, police spent hours combing files. The work paid off.
“We cleared up everything,” Chilmark Police Chief Brian Cioffi said of the outstanding theft investigations pending in his town. Mr. Cioffi said his department even returned an item to someone who did not know he had been robbed. The victims were grateful.
“The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. People say they feel a little safer now,” he said.
Chief Rossi said his department also cleared all its cases related to construction sites.
“We had 16 victims in this case,” Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt said. “Seventeen, if you count our camera.”
The items police recovered included four boat engines, including one taken from Maciel Marine that had yet to be reported, cordless drills, portable generators, chain saws, and other landscaping equipment.
Paul Brewer, owner of Brewer Tree and Landscaping, lost four chain saws and many other pieces of equipment when thieves broke into a shed last fall. On Monday, Edgartown Police returned the chain saws.
Mr. Brewer said it was very difficult to lose valuable equipment that must be replaced to keep working during tough economic times. That it occurred during the winter when work is slow eased the blow a bit, he told The Times in a telephone call Monday.
“I didn’t think I’d ever see it again,” Mr. Brewer said of the equipment. “I thought it had all gotten moved off-Island.”
Mr. Brewer said he was very grateful to the police and very angry with the thieves.
“I can’t work if I don’t have stuff to work with,” he said. “It just pisses you off.”
In conversations with The Times, the three police chiefs involved said an investigation of this type involves countless hours of work and generates reams of paperwork, in this case three sets, but ultimately reflects the nature of community policing and priorities.
Edgartown Chief Tony Bettencourt said his department takes property crimes seriously, because it is the type of crime that affects the quality of life, and in this case affected livelihoods in a small community.
“I just spoke to one of the victims and congratulated him on getting his tools back,” Chief Bettencourt said. “And he said, you know it was really nice for me and my crew to go to work, and we actually had some tools to work with.”
Mr. Bettencourt said it was gratifying to call the 16 victims with the news that police may have recovered some if not all of their stolen items.
That was balanced against the unhappy conversations he needed to have with parents.
“It is not something that is easy,” he said. “To have to talk to a parent that I know personally and tell her how much trouble her son is in. I just try to be compassionate and understanding.”
The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information is asked to contact local police.