UNION, Mo., April 3 (UPI) -- Missouri police probing a truck theft ring said they discovered the vehicles were being used to steal walnut trees that were then sold for drug money.
Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said at least two dozen trucks, including large rigs and tow trucks, have been stolen in recent months and a probe that has so far resulted in six arrests discovered the trucks were being used to transport walnut trees they illegally cut down on private land.
"The tow trucks, I think they used those to help lift the logs onto some of the trucks," Toelke told KTVI-TV. "One of the suspects they arrested had a check in his pocket, where he had sold a log, and it was a little over $2,000 for the one log."
Toelke said the suspects would sell the ill-gotten wood to saw mills and then abandon the stolen trucks, often stripped of valuable parts that could be sold individually. He said the trucks also had other uses for the suspects.
"We believe they were using them to transport narcotics and they also parted them out, taking orders for parts. I think the primary function was to haul walnut logs they stole off private property," Toelke told KMOV-TV.
The sheriff said the money made from selling the logs and truck parts were used to purchase more drugs for their trafficking operation.
Jerry Courtway, Brian Jones, Michael Smith and Roger Sohn are facing charges including vehicle theft, property damage, receiving stolen property and drug trafficking. The suspects were previously known to law enforcement from narcotics operations.
Two other suspects arrested when police recovered a stolen vehicle Thursday in Washington have not yet been named by authorities.
Toelke said the investigation is ongoing and the group could face further charges if they are found to have stolen any of the trees from state or federal land.