UPDATE 8/21/12 @ 6 p.m.
GRAYSON ,Ky (WSAZ) -- More than two years after as many as three heavy equipment theft rings bulldozed through West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio, the court cases, the recovery and the fallout continue.
For many area small businesses, the multimillion dollar thefts sparked big losses and worker layoffs. And now, a judge has struck down a proposed settlement, sending things back to square one.
Robby Tassen says when his construction company dump truck turned up missing a few years back from his business in Barboursville, W.Va., he says the suspected thief, John Buckner, was caught red-handed with his dump truck and much more.
“He was hauling stone with it and was caught with a million dollars worth of stolen equipment," Tassen said.
Prosecutors say Buckner, 63, of Grayson, Ky., stole nearly $1 million worth of heavy equipment from two dozen different victims in the Tri-State.
Still facing dozens of felony theft charges more than two years later, Buckner owes $107,000 in restitution, according to the state. That’s because all property was returned or insured.
But on Monday, a judge struck down a plea agreement where Buckner, who's free on bond, offered to pay $500 a month. The judge said victims like Robby Tassen, who says he lost $43,000, will never see their money.
Buckner’s trial on the theft charges is set for Dec. 12. His lawyer, Mike Curtis, says his client's rejected plea agreement to all those felony theft charges would have been ten years probation -- with no jail time.
Curtis says even $100,000 in restitution is ridiculous because insurance pays off everything. He says Buckner was gullible, not guilty and will be ready for trial in December.
According to Kentucky State Police, on March 11, a KSP Detective, along with an FBI agent and a Lewis Co. Deputy Sheriff recovered a Cat D4G dozer that had been stolen from Ohio.
Investigators then traveled to a residence on the outskirts of Portsmouth, Ohio where with the help of the Scotio County Sheriff’s Dept., they located 11 stolen vehicles and pieces of equipment.
They include a 2006 Cat excavator, a John Deere dozer, a Cat 580M backhoe, a Interstate flatbed trailer, one John Deere skid steer, one Komatsu mini excavator, one black flatbed trailer, one Vermeer wood chipper, one Bobcat sweeper attachment, one Bobcat bucket and one Komatsu bucket.
On March 14, investigators returned to Lewis County where they recovered eight additional pieces of equipment including one 2005 John Deere backhoe, one Cat D3G dozer, one Bobcat skid steer, one John Deere 310G backhoe, one John Deere 310SG, one Ditch Witch, one Hudson equipment trailer and one 2007 Takeuchi excavator.
In all, KSP says 43 pieces of heavy equipment stolen in Kentucky, West Virginia and Ohio by two separate theft rings have now been recovered.
They say the stolen equipment is valued at an estimated $1.3 million.
The initial raids happened in Carter County, Ky.
Officers say investigations will continue by all agencies involved and further charges are expected.
Now, busy deputies and angry contractors say heavy equipment theft is near epidemic.
This week -- many pieces of equipment were recovered, leaving contractors asking if what was found belonged to them.
Contractor Mike Ward hopes his twenty foot tandem trailer is among the recovered equipment. He says his was stolen from a West Huntington Church parking lot in 2009.
"They broke the lock and just drove it off," Ward said.
Leston Followay, a contractor out of Wayne County, West Virginia, had all but given up on recovering his $81,000 road grader stolen last month from the Huntington Mall in broad daylight -- but it was found among the recovered Carter County machines.
"It was good news," Followay said. "That was a big loss to us."
Carter County Sheriff Keith McDavid says he's received a lot of calls since this recovery story broke -- mostly from West Virginia, he said.
So far, only John Buckner of Willard is charged with stealing about one million dollars worth of equipment. Sheriff McDavid says he expects more arrests and more recoveries.
"We've matched up all the equipment to the owners," McDavid said.
If you haven't been contacted, that means they haven't recovered your equipment -- yet.
GRAYSON, Ky (WSAZ) – The Carter County Sheriff and the FBI have busted a major heavy equipment theft ring.
Sheriff Kevin McDavid tells WSAZ.com that between $700,000 and $1 million worth of heavy equipment and machinery has been recovered since late last week.
All the equipment was found in three locations off of Route 1496 in the Willard area of Carter Count
McDavid says many of the thefts took place in West Virginia along Boyd, Greenup and Morgan counties in Kentucky.
The items included bulldozers, graders, dump trucks, trailers and more.
The Sheriff says John Buckner has been arrested and charged with two counts of receiving stolen property.
McDavid says it's hard to tell how long the theft ring had been in operation. He says one dump truck was stolen back in 2008.
Sheriff McDavid says he believes there are more people involved with the theft ring and the investigation is ongoing.
McDavid says if anyone is missing equipment and believes they were victims of this theft ring they should call the Carter County Sheriff’s Department.
On Wednesday, the Sheriff's Office says it has been flooded with calls from people looking for their stolen equipment.
Keep clicking on WSAZ.com for updated information.
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