Arrests Made In Machinery Thefts

SEPTEMBER 13, 2004 -- Posted at: 11:58pm CDT

PIGGOTT & PARAGOULD, AR - Different kinds of earth-moving machinery has been stolen from 6 counties in Arkansas and Missouri, and recovered in Greene, Lawrence and Clay Counties in Arkansas and in Oregon County, Missouri.

"He rolls in with a gooseneck trailer, picks it up and away he's gone," explained Dan Langston, Sheriff of Greene County.

After the machines were taken, Sheriff Langston said the suspects sometimes switched the vehicle identification number plates with similar pieces of equipment. Two other tactics: completely grinding off the number or using stickers and stencils to put onto the equipment to make owners think that it's not their missing piece of machinery. Some of that equipment has been sold for less than a half or a third of the asking price.

Langston added, "He gives a song and dance, a sales pitch, and he says I've got this piece of equipment, and sold it to this guy, and I had to repossess it, or something like that, and I'll give it to you at a deal, and really it's an ordeal."

Jack Pipkin is one of the two suspects. Clay County Sheriff Ronnie Cole said his arrest on Wednesday shocked many in the county, because Pipkin is a well-respected member of the community: a manager at American Railcar Industries.

"When his name was first mentioned, I was skeptical," explained Cole.

Pipkin has been charged with six counts of Felony Theft by Receiving in Clay County, and may face charges in Missouri. A second suspect, Thomas Miller, confessed to investigators in Greene County early Sunday morning, and gave several other locations where similar equipment could be found.

Langston said, "They left a trail, a paper trail, checks, etc., and we more or less back tracked their checking and the sales of the equipment."

What makes this crime much easier is that most machinery this same size operates using a universal key according to make and model: one key fits all. Langston explained Thomas Miller had a ring of those keys with him when he was arrested.

"You're susceptible to that person that drives up and down the road, and if you're gonna maintain it or keep it, you need to put it where you can keep a hand on it," warned Sheriff Langston.

Both suspects are out of jail after posting $25,000 bonds. Sheriffs Cole and Langston expect to find more stolen equipment and plan to make more arrests with the help of investigators from the Arkansas State Police and the Memphis-based Auto Cargo Theft Task Force; a division of the FBI.