Investigators Bust AL Equipment Theft Ring

Wed December 03, 2003 - National Edition

MONTGOMERY, AL (AP) Investigators have arrested eight people and expect more arrests in the investigation of an Alabama-based theft ring specializing in farm machinery and heavy equipment.

So far, the investigation has recovered five backhoes, four farm tractors, and one all-terrain vehicle valued at more than $500,000, state Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said Dec. 1.

Sparks said investigators from the state Department of Agriculture and Industries are working on the case with law enforcement agencies in Randolph, Clay, Tallapoosa and Talladega counties, as well as with agencies in other southeastern states. "We anticipate more arrests and more charges," he said at a news conference.

The commissioner said the ring would steal equipment from unguarded construction sites and farms by hauling it away on a tractor-trailer. "These folks were professionals," Sparks said.

Sparks said the eight were charged with receiving stolen equipment in the first degree, a felony punishable by two to 20 years in prison if convicted. Some of the eight are accused of being involved in the ring, and others are accused of getting the equipment, he said.

Investigators identified seven of those charged as: Hershel Velpo Railey, 62, of New Site; his brother, Larry Wayne Railey, 60, of Alexander City; James Frank Battle, 61, of Wadley; Aldus Semuel Jackson, 50, of Birmingham; Joseph Williamson, 50, of Birmingham; Ralph Richardson, 60, of Roanoke; and Robert Benjamin Sheppard, 31, of Wedowee.

Sparks withheld the name of the eighth person arrested because, he said, the man is cooperating with authorities and investigators are concerned about his safety. He said investigators believe they are "very close" to getting the leader of the ring.

One of those charged, Larry Wayne Railey, said he didn’t know he was getting stolen equipment. "I’m not a criminal. I’m a hardworking guy who was too naive with some slick-talking people," he said in a telephone interview.

His brother, Hershel Railey, declined comment.

Sheppard’s attorney, Chris Albright, said his client "did not know the equipment was stolen if, in fact, it was stolen."

The equipment that has been recovered is parked at the State Farmers Market in Montgomery, but will soon be turned over to insurance companies that reimbursed the owners for their losses, Sparks said.

The commissioner predicted that more equipment will be recovered as the investigation continues.