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Burglary suspects did fast work, cops say

15-foot trailer filled with goods in Slidell
Tuesday, August 16, 2005 By Chris Kirkham
St. Tammany bureau
The call came in to Bennett's Camera and Video in Metairie on Wednesday just a few hours after the owner had received a distressing e-mail.

The home of a customer from Pearl River had just been burglarized, and almost $30,000 in Nikon camera equipment was taken. Just a few hours after Chris Bennett read the e-mail, he received a call from a man in St. Tammany Parish who needed to sell exactly the same equipment after a relative had passed away.

The equipment was very specialized, Bennett said, and it was even more of a tip-off when the man started making novice comments about "nature photography."
"With equipment like that, chances are I would have known who they were," he said.

Bennett told the man he'd take a look at the equipment, but as the man was on the way, Bennett contacted the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office. When Fernando Roig, 40, and Johnny Crooker, 35, arrived at the store with the camera equipment, deputies were on hand.

After asking a few questions, Jefferson Parish deputies arrested and booked the two men with possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen car from Florida.

Packed travel trailer

After the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office was notified of the arrests, investigators said, authorities quickly learned that Roig, Crooker and at least one other person could be connected to a rash of at least 20 burglaries in the Slidell and Pearl River area in the past month. Deputies believe the suspects also may be connected to a spate of burglaries in Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Arkansas and Missouri.

Deputies obtained a search warrant for the Slidell house where Roig and Crooker were staying. The officers found a 15-foot travel trailer Thursday filled with $140,000 in items ranging from clothes to jewelry to fishing gear, according to Detective Lewis Sanders of the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office.

Roig's girlfriend, Janelle Glynn, 40, and Crooker's father, Steven Morehead, 51, also were booked with possession of stolen property during the search. All four were believed to be living on the property at 204 Hoover Drive, but Sanders said he is unsure of Morehead's involvement in the burglaries.

Burglary charges are pending in St. Tammany, Sanders said, as detectives continue to piece together the case. The number of burglaries in which each suspect was involved was unclear Monday, Sanders said. Roig, who police say is an illegal immigrant from Cuba, and Crooker were transferred to the St. Tammany Parish jail on Monday, Sanders said. Glynn was being held at the jail as of Monday evening, but Morehead had been released.

The property collected during the search was on display Monday morning at the Sheriff's Office Pearl River Training Center.

The Sheriff's Office will allow victims to claim their property Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the training center, 39395 Pine St. Victims must bring police reports and/or proof of ownership.

Vast assortment

"These people really had no particular item they went after," Sheriff Jack Strain said Monday, referring to the pell-mell assortment of hygiene products, antiques, fishing rods and hardware supplies strewn across four rows of tables at the training center. "They went after anything they could get their hands on."

Some of the more unusual items were a set of antique dolls, a series of ration books and cards from World War II dating back to 1942, a damaged violin and an antique flintlock gun.

The Sheriff's Office is in contact with law enforcement agencies and pawnshops throughout the South, where detectives believe they will find many more stolen items. Strain said the Sheriff's Office has recovered stolen items believed to be connected to the burglary ring from pawnshops in every county in Mississippi.

Most of the St. Tammany burglaries have been concentrated in the area near Military Road and U.S. 190 near Slidell, Strain said. Sanders said most of the burglaries were quick, lasting only about two minutes.

He said he was able to link the burglaries because the doors had been kicked in at the victim's houses and the burglars took almost everything they could. He got a bit of help when one victim was able to identify Roig, who she said she thought was a friend of her son's, leaving her house. Minutes after he left carrying a briefcase, Sanders said, the victim realized what had happened.

"These type of burglaries are starting to occur more often, but for only one or two people to do this much is pretty unique," Sanders said. "Thirty days and 20 victims. If they had full-time jobs they could be making pretty good money."

Prodigious pace

The Sheriff's Office will continue to track down items in pawnshops using serial numbers provided by victims or descriptions from police reports. Sanders said he expects the investigation to last another two or three weeks before he can determine which of the suspects should be paired with each burglary.

Sheriff's Office officials estimated that Roig and others had hit up to 100 houses throughout the South. Slidell police Lt. Kevin Swann, who worked on the case along with Pearl River police and other law enforcement agencies, said Roig had been arrested in Slidell 10 years ago for a similar string of burglaries. Swann said Roig had been returned to Cuba by immigration officials.

Records show he pleaded guilty to 15 counts of burglary of an inhabited dwelling in St. Tammany Parish in 1995. Crooker has previous charges of possession of cocaine and possession of schedule II and III narcotics. The narcotics cases are pending.
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