Two men arrested in equipment scam

Sunday, September 30, 2001

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. -- Five Georgia men are accused of selling stolen John Deere farm equipment in a scam that involved thefts of $500,000 of merchandise from dealers in four states.

Fayette County sheriff's deputies said customers bought the equipment from a group that specialized in stealing John Deere tractors, mowers and other goods from dealers in Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

A spokesman for Moline, Ill.-based John Deere said it was one of the largest theft cases on record involving the company's farm equipment.

Deputies have recovered 34 pieces of equipment worth about $500,000 on the legitimate market, including one tractor that would sell for $43,000 at the dealership. Most of the property has been returned to the dealers.

Larry Whitaker, 38, of Spalding County and Lewis "Butch" Shirley, 56, of Fayetteville have been arrested and charged with racketeering.

Deputies said they were looking for three other men they hoped to arrest: Steve Richardson of Hampton and brothers Bobby Green, 37, of Atlanta and Kenneth Green, 32, of Spalding County.

Toy Lee of McDonough said he bought two John Deere utility vehicles last year from Whitaker. He said Whitaker told him the equipment was cheap because it had been bought at auction.

"I talked to investigators about it," Lee said. "They were as nice as could be. They took the equipment and that was pretty much it."

Fayette County Sheriff's Maj. Bruce Jordan said most buyers knew -- or should have known -- the merchandise was stolen because thousands of dollars in cash changed hands and no receipts were written.

He said some buyers likely thought the equipment was being resold by insurance companies.

"Some people were flat-out told it was stolen. Some people were told you can't take this to John Deere for repairs because the numbers will come back stolen," he said, referring to serial numbers.

One buyer has been charged with obstruction for not telling deputies where to find the equipment. Others may face criminal charges.

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