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The Home Depot and Sunbelt Rentals lend a hand in crime ring bust

By Brock Huffstutler

January 21, 2024

Law enforcement authorities in Blytheville, Ark., reported in early January that a multi-agency operation has cracked down on an organized, far-reaching heavy equipment crime ring that had been operating out of the city.

Blytheville Police Chief Ross Thompson said the investigation — named Operation Heavy Lift — has led to 21 arrest warrants being issued and that the crime ring had stolen heavy equipment from stores across 10 states in nearly 50 separate thefts.

The agencies involved in Operation Heavy Lift include the Department of Homeland Security, Arkansas State Police, the Arkansas attorney general’s office, Blytheville Police Department, Osceola Police Department, Mississippi County Sheriff’s office, Memphis Police Department and Lebanon Police Department.

According to a news report on Operation Heavy Lift by local news station KAIT, Chief Thompson revealed that the investigation began in 2020 but no prosecutions were able to be made until December 2023. That is when personnel from two companies impacted by the thefts — The Home Depot and Sunbelt Rentals — provided information that was a catalyst for police identifying 21 men in the crime ring.

The Arkansas attorney general’s office listed Home Depot Organized Crime Investigations as a participant in the investigation.

In a statement, Sunbelt Rentals said, “We are grateful to all of the local, state and federal agencies for their response and actions in regard to Operation Heavy Lift. We will continue to cooperate with the authorities throughout this investigation.”

Although no details have been provided as to how the thieves were able to steal the equipment, Chief Thompson said that some of the products stolen included track loaders, each valued over $30,000, as well as mowers valued between $8,000 and $9,000.

In addition to the stolen equipment, authorities said firearms, controlled substances and records reflecting the organization’s activities were found during the search.

“Fighting organized retail crime is one of my top priorities because these criminals are stealing from retailers, and Arkansans are paying the price,” said Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin. “Also, organized retail crime is often a funding source for criminals who engage in more illicit activity, including violent crimes like human trafficking and even murder. Taking these criminals off Arkansas streets is a huge win for justice in our state, and I am supremely proud of all the law enforcement and retail partners who have worked together on this case.”

Attorney General Griffin’s office said nine arrests have been made in Operation Heavy Lift, which remains an ongoing investigation.