Thieves target bay area landscapers

PINELLAS COUNTY - Lee Rogers spent the last 20 years building up his landscaping business.  Thieves managed to take all of that away from him on Saturday in less than an hour.

"Of course, my heart sank," explained Rogers, owner of Peak Performance Property Service.  "I lost it all."

Weed whackers, ladders, lawn mowers, gas cans and even rakes were stolen out of Rogers' truck and trailer which he parked out in front of his Seminole home.  The trailer was locked.  Rogers was in the house sleeping when thieves struck Saturday night.

Rogers is now buying new equipment with money out of his own pocket. On Wednesday, he stopped in at Royal Edge and Mower in Pinellas Park to pick up more gear.

"They had to extend my credit limit down here otherwise I am done.  I am going have to file bankruptcy.  I'm out of business."

John McMullen, owner of Royal Edge, says thieves are targeting many of his customers.

"Owned a lawn mower shop for 38 years and never have seen so much theft take place," explained McMullen.

McMullen knows these landscapers need equipment to work in order to put food on their tables at home. 

"They don't have deep pockets," he said.

Kevin Bernstein is another one of McMullen's good clients.  Bernstein told ABC Action News his truck and trailer were stolen out of his driveway while he slept.  The truck's battery was dead but that didn't stop the thieves, he added.

"They stole two batteries out of other cars and put them in mine," Bernstein said.

Bernstein's truck was found parked near the Gandy Bridge.  All of the equipment inside was stolen and the truck was badly damaged.  He estimates he is out more than $100,000 dollars. While his truck is in the shop and he is waiting on insurance money, he is working with a friend who also owns a landscaping business.

"Someone like me or Lee (Rogers), you can't work for two or three weeks and customers go elsewhere," explained Bernstein.

As of now, Pinellas Park Police and the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office have not made arrests in these cases.  They also do not know if the same thieves are responsible for all the thefts.

There is a good lead in a case involving a Tampa landscaper.  Michael Dickinson was struck by thieves twice in less than eleven days.

Dickinson parks his truck and trailer outside of his home.  He says he typically backs up the trailer doors to a fence so no one can get at the trailer which has several locks.

Thieves, however, figured out how to get at his stuff.

"Broke the locks and dropped the gates far enough so someone could squeeze in through the top," explained McMullen.  "Someone tiny went in and was handing everything out, even the gas cans."

By the time thieves struck again, McMullen had put up two surveillance cameras.  One of the thieves noticed one of the cameras.  Covering his face with what appears to be a towel, the thief walks toward the camera and then turns it away so the crime cannot be recorded.

But, there was another camera that was even closer to the trailer that the thieves didn't see.

On the video you can see two men taking everything from rakes to a pricey lawn mower from Dickinson.

Police now have the surveillance tape and are looking for two men who were driving a very distinctive pick up truck with reflectors on the back and an orange cone in the truck's bed.

Despite this recent string of thefts, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office reports there is not an increase in these type of thefts.

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