Undercover operations by the Pasco County Sheriff's Office investigating two separate stolen-goods rings led to five arrests Friday afternoon. Two suspects were charged with conspiracy to deal and dealing in stolen property of business equipment with an estimated value of $11,000. Port Richey residents Tracy Dean Welch, 19, of 11113 U.S. 19 and Diane Byrd Plummer, 45, of 9805 Hidden Lane, sold detectives computer and office machines taken during seven burglaries in West Pasco County, according to records. Another unidentified suspect in the case is still at large.
The other case involved goods valued at $5,214 shoplifted from several department stores in West Pasco County. Lawrence Russell Buchs, 27, Tammy Barbara Craparo, 19, and Doris Michelle Peck, 23, all of 7214 Fox Hollow Drive in Port Richey, were charged with multiple counts of conspiracy to deal and dealing in stolen property.
At a news briefing Saturday, undercover officer Sgt. Don Smith said Welch and Plummer became sting targets because of Welch's possible involvement in another crime. Undercover Sheriff's Office narcotics officers said they bought one gram of cocaine from Welch on two occasions. According to Smith, during one deal, Welch was asked if he had knowledge of any stolen goods for sale. Welch said yes and eventually met four times with detectives to sell computer or business equipment for less than its market value. Plummer was involved in two of those transactions, officials say.
Welch also was charged Friday with two counts of possession and sale of cocaine resulting from the separate narcotics investigation.
The arrests of Buchs, Craparo and Peck were the result of an investigation that began May 22 after an informant's tip to authorities. Smith said undercover officers made contact with the suspects expressing interest in buying items for a cheap price. Several sales were transacted during the next week, usually for about 20 percent of the product's retail price. Most of the merchandise was clothing, tools or camera film, and all of it was from local Beall's, JByrons, Phar-Mor, Walgreens, Rite-Aid and Jewel Osco stores.
Smith said the shoplifting investigation will continue because of the systematic methods Buchs, Craparo and Peck used to obtain and sell the items. In both cases, anyone who bought any of the stolen property also would be subject to arrest.
"We have a good idea that the ring is probably larger," Smith said. "Somebody had to teach them the mannerisms with which they carried the stuff out."
Anesthetic gas stolen from hospital
BAYONET POINT _ Four cylinders of nitrous oxide were reported stolen Friday from HCA Bayonet Point Hospital, 14000 Fivay Road.
According to a Pasco County Sheriff's Office report, each cylinder weighs 150 to 200 pounds with an estimated value of $300 a container. The gas tanks, which contained the anesthetic used during surgery that can be abused as an intoxicant, were stored in a fenced-in compound outside the hospital after they were delivered Thursday afternoon. The thieves cut the fence's padlock and a chain that secured the cylinders in the compound.
Officials said there were no immediate leads in the investigation.