Police work ends burglary ring, sends top offenders to prison
URBANA — Dale Rawdin and Jody Ferry couldn't help but do a bit of a happy dance this week when the second of two major players in a residential burglary ring was sent to prison.
The 15-year sentence that Judge Harry Clem imposed on Jermaine Johnson, 23, of Tolono, for two residential burglaries closed the book on a number of break-ins that Rawdin, now retired from the Champaign police department, and Ferry, an investigator for the Champaign County Sheriff's Office, teamed up on for months to solve almost two years ago.
"Dale and Jody went above and beyond and sorted through hundreds of reports and brought down a crime ring," said Assistant State's Attorney Scott Larson, who was at least the third attorney in his office to inherit the convoluted cases. "Both of them put in hundreds, if not thousands, of hours."
The result was that Johnson and co-defendant Matthew Hall, 22, are in prison, while four others who played minor roles in the burglary and theft schemes were also convicted and received community-based sentences.
In February, Hall pleaded guilty to one residential burglary that happened on Sept. 11, 2012, in the 1600 block of Oxford Drive, Champaign. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The crimes happened in the latter part of 2012 and involved forced break-ins to homes in southwest Champaign and Savoy.
"They kind of started popping up in numbers in August of 2012, mainly southwest Champaign when they first started," Rawdin said of his cases. "They all shared similar traits: they happened in the late afternoon, early evening while people were away and we were getting two or three within the same area at the same time. They usually pried a window or a sliding door."
Many happened in the neighborhood where Johnson's mother lived, Rawdin said.
"In almost all of them, the house was in complete disarray — tipping over beds and mattresses and dumping out drawers. The houses were very ransacked. Many of these owners were elderly, a person that has more time to collect heirlooms. We were seeing quite a few coin collections, jewelry collections taken. A lot of these things were truly heirlooms that were irreplaceable," Rawdin said.
A shotgun that an 84-year-old man's sons had scrimped to buy him for Father's Day years ago was stolen. So was a collector coin that had been placed in a mother's casket and later kept by her daughter.
The thieves were also taking — and later using — credit cards.
At the end of October 2012, Ferry was working five residential burglaries that happened in about a week.
"I got hold of Dale Rawdin to let him know. Between the two of us, we realized we were dealing with the same suspects," Ferry said, adding that both he and Rawdin were familiar with Johnson and Hall from previous, unrelated cases.
Both detectives got a break when Ferry recovered a Walmart receipt from a victim's home on Arbours Drive in Savoy that had Johnson's fingerprint on it. He went to Walmart and obtained video of that sale, which showed Johnson wearing a distinct multi-colored jacket with unique markings on it.
Ferry and Rawdin were already combing local pawn shops for the coins and jewelry that had been stolen. At one of them, the manager recognized the picture of Johnson, who had frequented the business.
They were also looking at surveillance video from stores where the stolen credit cards had been used, leading them to Hall and some of the other players.
The identification of the men was the main information they needed to get search warrants for Johnson's home, in the 600 block of East Main Street in Tolono, and Hall's, in the 1800 block of West William Street in Champaign.
On Nov. 2, 2012, they hit the mother lode and arrested the pair.
"(Johnson's) car was literally loaded with stolen property — a lot of collectible coins and credit cards from victims," Ferry said.
In his house, they found three stolen guns (two of which they were able to track to rightful owners), jewelry, credit cards and rewards cards. They also found electronic items that had been purchased with the stolen cards.
"(Johnson) kept the goods and was using computers and iPads. He was just basically living the high life off all these poor victims," Larson said.
The detectives also recovered some stolen items at pawn shops.
Johnson pleaded guilty to two residential burglaries — one on Sept. 11, 2012, in the 1000 block of Maple Park Drive, Champaign, and one on Oct. 25, 2012, in the 200 block of Arbours Drive. Larson said the evidence that the detectives had put together, which he presented to the judge at Johnson's sentencing, linked him to "at least a dozen burglaries."
"There were still many more items that they don't know where they came from," Larson said of the items recovered from Johnson and Hall.
Rawdin, whom Ferry called "a bulldog on this case," ventured that there were even more burglaries.
"I am relatively certain through recovery of evidence and method of entries and method of burgling houses, they did 20 to 25 between the two of us," said Rawdin, who retired from the Champaign Police Department in February and began working that same month as the investigator for State's Attorney Julia Rietz's office.
Rawdin also credited Champaign police crime analyst Renae Yandell for her help in solving the crimes.
"She was instrumental in tracking the cases for me and those that were similar," he said, adding that she developed link charts and maps of the break-ins that were later used in court.
"This was a burglary crew. There is no doubt," Rawdin said.
"When they were both arrested, the burglaries immediately stopped," Ferry added.