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Victims start recovering items turned into sheriff's sting

Donna Stephenson of Seminole browses recovered stolen property at the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office on Saturday.

MELISSA LYTTLE | Times

Donna Stephenson of Seminole browses recovered stolen property at the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office on Saturday.

BRANDON — When John Trujillo walked into the small room in the Sheriff's Office building Saturday and saw tables piled with laptops, iPods, televisions and cameras, he saw more than just stolen items.

"You see a bunch of people who have connections to them," he said.

Trujillo of Westchase joined 85 others who scoured the piles, hopeful that items stolen from them had turned up in the yearlong sting conducted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Starting in October 2007, undercover officers worked a fake auction house at 7902 W Waters Ave. Thieves became comfortable with the officers and sold them stolen cars, electronics, jewelry and drugs. About $1.4-million of property was recovered.

Many suspects even signed up for a raffle to "the Orient," and about 140 people found out that meant the Orient Road Jail.

"It's manpower-intensive and it takes lot of time, but it's really great to see the victims get their property back," Cpl. Kyle Robinson said.

Much of the property was quickly matched up with police reports and given back to their owners, including a dog bought for $400.

On Saturday, several flat-screen TVs stood in the back of the room. One belonged to Adrian Dixon, a Christmas gift given to him last year by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he interned as a trainer.

His mom picked it up, along with his large, gold Gator Bowl championship ring from 2004, when Florida State University's football team won.

"It still makes me mad," Terri Dixon said. She felt violated when she found out thieves had broken into her Tampa house through a window. They even took her favorite comforter, using it to wrap the TV.

She's thankful for the detectives, who say they coerced a suspect to sell the ring. The suspect was wearing the ring when he brought in other items to sell at the fake auction house. He told the undercover officer he had stolen it, and the deputy knew he had to buy it.

"We knew it must have had sentimental value to the owner," Robinson said.

Trujillo was thrilled to pick up a shotgun his late uncle gave him when he was 12.

"It's one of those childhood treasures," he said.

But not everyone walked away happy. Dawn Masiello, of Westchase, was looking for about $80,000 worth of property, including a diamond ring given to her by her dad, who recently passed away.

"It was the only thing he left me," she said.

It wasn't there Saturday. The only thing she recovered was her laptop.

"I guess that's better than nothing," she said.

On Saturday, 13 people were able to identify their property, and 72 items were released, Robinson said. And while he won't say if there's another sting planned, he's warning would-be thieves to watch out.

"You never know where one may be now or in the future," he said.

Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Victims start recovering items turned into sheriff's sting 10/18/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 2:49pm]

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