An investigation into some stolen property that started in Kennewick led detectives to Richland and then to Pasco where a massive fencing organization was uncovered.
Stolen wire, tools, power equipment, construction material, irrigation pipes and motors, and more than 100 tons of scrapped wire were among the stolen goods found by investigators when they searched a Pasco auto repair business, said Pasco police Capt. Jim Raymond.
"This is a pretty large-scale operation," he told the Herald on Thursday as officers took pictures and loaded up the items at City Lube, 301 W. Lewis St.
It was too early to determine a value for the property, but Raymond said it's easily in the "hundreds of thousands" of dollars.
Some of the items already have been linked to thefts and burglaries reported to Kennewick, Pasco and Richland police, and Benton County sheriff's deputies, he said.
Detectives from all four agencies spent most of the afternoon at the shop working to collect and tag the evidence.
A forklift was used to move a large pallet full of stolen spools of wire. New mattresses covered in plastic, piles of aluminum and dozens of car batteries also were visible through the fence.
Raymond said a load of windows, cabinets and other property used in new home construction already had been returned to its rightful owner.
Tri-City Animal Control officers also were on site Thursday loading up cages with about a dozen parrots and other birds. One bird kept whistling at detectives as they walked by.
The birds weren't part of the fencing operation, but they were taken to the shelter because there was no one available to care for them, authorities said.
Only police officers are allowed in the City Lube building, according to a "Do Not Enter" noticed posted on the outside wall. The notice, which said the building was "unsafe to occupy," was put up at 1:45 p.m. Thursday by the Pasco building inspector.
The owner of City Lube, Jesus Arellano Chavarria, is suspected of buying stolen property from "miscreants," Raymond said.
Chavarria, 39, was arrested Wednesday when Kennewick police went to City Lube with a warrant to search for stolen pressure washers, Raymond said.
Chavarria is being held in the Franklin County jail on $2,500 bail for investigation of second-degree possession of stolen property. Pasco attorney Michael Davidson was hired to represent him.
The initial possession of stolen property charge is connected only to $1,475 worth of property recovered Wednesday that had been identified as being stolen from Roberts Construction in Richland, court documents said.
He could face additional charges.
According to court documents, Kennewick police detectives went to City Lube around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday with Pasco police looking for stolen property from one of their cases and discovered the other suspected stolen items.
Pasco police Detective Scott Warren then went to the shop where he was shown a framing nail gun that had the words "Roberts Const" engraved on it, along with red paint.
Warren was told that Roberts Construction reported a burglary at its business. Warren called an employee at the Richland construction company and asked him to go to the Pasco shop and identify the property, documents said.
The nail gun was positively identified, along with two smaller trim saws, a wire feed welder, a Husky 17-gallon compressor and a Chicago Electric Concrete cut-off saw, documents said.
Chavarria, who was at the business, then was contacted and told the items from Roberts Construction had been positively identified as being stolen.
After he was arrested, he told officers that he scraps stuff at his business.
Chavarria said he bought the Roberts Construction items "one by one" from people he could not remember, documents said.
As detectives continued to cart away items from Chavarria's business Thursday, Raymond said the fencing operation was the largest he has seen.
Once all of the items are inventoried, Raymond said detectives from all the agencies will then have to start trying to identify the property owners and linking the item to open cases.