NEW PORT RICHEY — Since January, at least 60 boats have been pillaged off the west coast of Pasco.
Sometimes, the thieves get on board, steal what they can and run. Often, they take the whole boat — stripping it of what they want and then sinking it, leaving it to rot.
Three people have been arrested and accused of committing the crimes so far, according to the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. Spokesman Kevin Doll said more arrests are expected as detectives continue to investigate.
He said many of the thefts are from boats anchored in Gulf Harbors and around Green Key. Detectives are working with the New Port Richey Police Department, as some of the thefts happened in the city limits.
Those arrested are:
Luis E. Perez, 28, of 8427 Chasco Woods Blvd., Port Richey. He is charged with one count of grand theft. He was arrested Wednesday and released Friday on $2,000 bail.
Jonathon "Jon Jon" Stone, 22, of 10441 113th Ave., Pinellas Park. He is charged with burglary, criminal mischief, three counts of grand theft and violating his probation. He was arrested Thursday and is being held at the Land O'Lakes jail without bail.
Kevin A. Roach, 20, of 4935 Largo Ter., New Port Richey. He is charged with burglary, possession of burglary tools, criminal mischief, three counts of grand theft and violating his felony probation. He was arrested Thursday and is being held without bail at the Land O'Lakes jail.
Doll said investigators believe Perez is a member of a boat theft ring and that Stone and Roach are members of another ring.
He said citizens who have had their boat or boat equipment stolen should contact the Sheriff's Office, if they haven't already done so. The number is (727) 844-7711. Doll urges anyone with information about the crimes to call the toll-free tip line at 1-800-706-2488. Tips can be left anonymously.
The Sheriff's Office would not say how the thieves are selling the stolen items. But Doll said people in the market for used boating equipment should be wary.
"They need to be aware of who they are buying it from," he said.
Doll said to ask sellers for receipts, proving the goods are indeed theirs. He also warns boat owners to do what they can to make it difficult for their boats and equipment to be stolen.
"Secure your boat," he said. "Be on the lookout for suspicious behavior."
Doll said investigators are talking with other agencies in the Tampa Bay area to see if the same rings are active in other places.
"Criminals don't stick to county lines," Doll said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.