Originally created 06/19/03

Pair accused of stealing, growing plants

A North Augusta couple was behind bars Wednesday, charged with stealing small trees and growing big weed.

Tatum C. Eichfeld, 31, and Brenda M. Waites, 28, were arrested by narcotics officers from the North Augusta Department of Public Safety on charges of manufacturing marijuana and possessing stolen property.

Officers found four 4-foot-tall marijuana plants growing in the bedroom of Mr. Eichfeld's Meridian Avenue home late Tuesday, along with three considerably smaller stolen bonsai trees, police said.

The tiny trees belonged to Augusta businesswoman Bonnie Ruben, who had reported them missing from her Country Club Hills home April 30.

Last week, she received an anonymous tip that Mr. Eichfeld, a landscaper who worked for her nearly five years ago, had been bragging about acquiring several of the valuable plants. Ms. Waites was at home when authorities executed the search warrant.

By working with law enforcement from Columbia County, Richmond County and North Augusta, Ms. Ruben was able to use the tip not only to locate her plants but also to help police recover the illegal ones, officers said.

"She had some good information," said Lee Wetherington, the chief of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety.

To Ms. Ruben's delight, two of her five trees, including the most valuable - a 100-year-old boxwood valued at more than $5,000 - survived captivity.

The marijuana plants appeared to be thriving under artificial lights, but Mr. Eichfeld pointed authorities to a third bonsai tree that had dried up and died, police said.

Ms. Ruben had considered rooting out the thief on her own after receiving the anonymous tip.

"I thought about just going over there and getting my plants," she said.

Now she's glad she didn't have to get her hands dirty.

"We did it the right way," she said.

Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or heidi.williams@augustachronicle.com.


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