By Ed Runyan
AUSTINTOWN — On Jan. 23, 2007, Austintown Patrolman Ross Linert was checking businesses in the Wedgewood Plaza on South Raccoon Road when he noticed two men in a retired police vehicle using a door-mounted spotlight to look inside store fronts.
After a few minutes, the vehicle sped off, with Linert in pursuit. The officer made a traffic stop and discovered Jason Kirkpatrick of Warren and James Hunsbarger of Campbell, both 27, inside.
And he found a few other curious items in the car: a pry bar, two two-way radios, a pair of binoculars and a police scanner with earphones and a book containing police radio frequencies.
The information led police to suspect the men might be burglars, but it didn’t prove that they were.
Fortunately, James Ciotti, an agent with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, and his new boss at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Marc Dann, had noticed a rash of burglaries dating back at least a year and decided to do something about them.
In the months that followed Linert’s traffic stop, 28 law enforcement investigators from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties went to work as the Ohio Organized Crime Investigations Commission to solve the crimes.
After nearly two years, the investigation resulted in the conviction of Kirkpatrick and Hunsbarger for committing up to 30 business break-ins and the conviction of many of the 15 people indicted in a separate burglary cell headed by Austintown man Bobby J. Mock that was responsible for as many as 125 more.
Jeff Hoolihan, a Warren police detective on the task force, said investigators didn’t know at first whether they were investigating one large group or multiple groups. Investigators also found two other cells but are not saying much yet about them.
Eventually it became clear that there were two main burglary cells — the Kirkpatrick cell, which would drop into stores through the ceiling by removing air conditioning panels to steal; and Mock’s cell, which would generally cut locks and fences and take gas-operated equipment like lawn mowers or all-terrain vehicles from outside a business.
Read the full story Monday in The Vindicator and on Vindy.com.