Gun-Theft Arrest Tops Busy Week For Police

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It's been a hectic week of crime-fighting for both the Gila County Sheriff's Department and the Payson Police Department.

Over the past seven days, law enforcement officers from those agencies arrested one man for the theft and trafficking of firearms; another for possession of methamphetamine; a juvenile for carrying concealed weapons on school grounds; and another juvenile caught in the midst of a burglary.

According to Gila County Det. Brian Havey, 20-year-old Jason Taddei was arrested April 30 for a pair of class-two felonies, burglary and trafficking in stolen property in connection with the theft of a Mesa del Caballo man's $10,000 firearms collection, stored in a friend's Strawberry home.

About 99 percent of the property has been recovered. Taddei described by Havey as a "floater" resident of "Pine, Payson, Strawberry, wherever" had pawned one of the firearms and sold three others to a Seligman resident, Havey said.

"He left two in the residence where he is renting a room, and that's ultimately how we located him," the detective said. "The homeowner kicked him out and found these guns stashed back in a corner. One had the serial number ground off of it, but we were able to read enough to verify that it was indeed one of the stolen weapons."

The cache of guns included a Remington 700 custom rifle valued at $2,200; a Remington 700 ADL valued at $525; a custom Winchester rifle valued at $1,400; an AK-47 pellet rifle valued at $250; and other guns valued as high as $3,700. The owner of the Strawberry home was also a victim; he lost two expensive pellet guns and a bolt-action rifle in the theft.

"These aren't street weapons as a rule," Havey said.

Taddei was booked into Payson jail, but was released Thursday upon posting a $1,500 bond. The Gila County Attorney's office has yet to file formal charges.

Thursday night, Payson Police Department officers obtained a methamphetamine-search warrant for a Frontier St. mobile home, and by early Friday morning, Edward VanWinkle, 47, was arrested and charged with possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia.

"We had about a six-week-long investigation into the belief that he was selling drugs specifically methamphetamines out of his trailer space," Lt. Don Engler said. "We were finally able to generate enough information to complete a search warrant."

Once inside VanWinkle's home, Engler said, officers found a half-gram of methamphetamines and "a considerable amount" of drug paraphernalia.

VanWinkle, who had been booked into the Payson jail, was released in lieu of a $1,500 bail.

A complaint in the matter has not yet been filed by the Gila County Attorney's office.

Also arrested Friday at the intersection of South Meadow and West Wade Streets near Payson High School was a 17-year-old male juvenile who was charged by Payson Police with carrying concealed weapons on the school grounds.

"He had two knives a regular pocketknife and a butterfly-type knife and he claimed he had them on his possession for work purposes after school," Engler said. "He told the officers that he used them to open boxes. No threats were made or anything such as that."

The teenager was referred to juvenile probation and released to a parent.

"It hasn't yet been determined if there will be a formal-charge process, meaning the complaint would be filed in Superior Court, or if it will be handled informally, where the case would be given to juvenile probation authorities," Engler said.

Another juvenile a 12-year-old Payson boy was arrested Saturday in the midst of burglarizing a business on East Tonto.

"We have another juvenile suspect we've uncovered through our investigation, and we'll be talking to him very soon," Engler said.

The stolen articles included CB radios and car stereos. According to the business owner, some, but not all, of the items have been returned.

The boy was released to his parents.

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