Six out of 116 burglary suspects have evaded capture two months after the wrap up of the Richmond County sheriff’s Office’s latest undercover sting – Operation Smoke Screen.
“The majority of them will eventually show up,” Sgt. Jason Vinson said. “These six guys have pretty much gone on the run.”
Smoke Screen ended Feb. 28, seven months after undercover officers began operating Cheap Cigarettes II, a pawn shop that had previously been operating illegally on Peach Orchard Road.
The sheriff’s office has had a constant flow of suspects booked into jail since the operation ended, with 77 suspects caught the first day.
Investigators believe the remaining suspects have fled the state. One of them recently turned up in Virginia.
Before Smoke Screen, undercover officers ran an urban clothing store on Deans Bridge Road in another sting, where they bought drugs and firearms. The sting – called Operation Fox Hunt – ended March 2011, 19 months after it started.
Investigators eventually caught all the suspects. The last Fox Hunt suspect, Angus Myricks, was taken into custody during Smoke Screen.
Myricks, 26, had warrants for selling drugs to undercover officers during Operation Fox Hunt when he showed up at Cheap Cigarettes II to sell stolen merchandise. He turned himself in before the operation ended.
Vinson said those arrested on federal charges are already going through prosecution and those with state charges are expected to be coming up on the Superior Court calendar in the next few weeks.
Although the main legwork from Smoke Screen is over, Vinson said it’s still a full-time job.
“We’re still in the process of taking care of the property we have and we’re still receiving calls from the public,” he said of the recovered property.
He estimated at least 95 percent of the stockpile of stolen televisions, computers, gaming systems, power tools and ATVs have been returned to the owners.
Recovered firearms still have a ways to go before they are returned to their owners.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has custody of the guns.
After the case is finished, the guns will either be returned to owners or destroyed.