Illegal immigrant pleads guilty in construction site theft spree |

Illegal immigrant pleads guilty in construction site theft spree

A member of an alleged ring involved in a string of construction site thefts in Grand County during 2006 entered a plea in a Hot Sulphur Springs courtroom Thursday.

Daniel Lugo-Duarte, a 29-year-old Mexican national illegally in this country, pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted theft $1,000 to $20,000, a Class 5 felony.

Lugo-Duarte, shackled and wearing an orange Grand County Jail jumpsuit, entered the plea before Judge Mary Hoak of the 14th Judicial District Court. The proceedings had to be translated into Spanish via speakerphone with an interpreter in Denver.

Judge Hoak set Lugo-Duarte’s sentencing for Tuesday, Feb. 5. The presumptive range of penalties includes a sentence of one to three years in prison and fines from $1,000 to $100,000.

In accepting the plea, Judge Hoak informed Lugo-Duarte’s defense attorney Jacob Eppler that the victims would have 90 days to request restitution. Six victims were named in the charges against the defendant.

Lugo-Duarte is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence from Eagle County on a charge of second degree burglary, a Class 4 felony. He was transferred from the Colorado Department of Corrections facility in Trinidad to the Grand County Jail in December to face the Grand County charges. He was set to be released from his prison sentence at the end of August 2008.

A Grand County arrest warrant for Lugo-Duarte was issued in November 2006. He was accused of being part of a ring that allegedly perpetrated thefts at construction sites in Grand, Eagle and possibly other Colorado mountain counties.

In the original Grand County arrest warrant, Lugo-Duarte was suspected of involvement in more than 34 thefts at construction sites. Copper construction items and power tools with an estimated worth of $100,000 were stolen between July 15 and Oct. 17, 2006.

The break in the case occurred Oct. 14, 2006, when the Vail Police stopped a Ford Explorer in which Lugo-Duarte and another illegal Mexican immigrant were riding. Both men were living in the Denver area at the time.

Inside the suspects’ vehicle officers found buckets containing copper pipe fittings that belonged to construction sites in the Vail Valley. The Ford Explorer was impounded and the two men were released pending the results of an investigation.

Four days later on Oct. 18, the Lugo-Duarte and the other Mexican national returned to Vail to get the impounded Ford Explorer. When they arrived, Vail Police officers searched the 1993 Ford pickup they had driven from Denver. In the rear of the pickup, they found a cardboard box containing more copper construction items.

What raised the Vail officers’ suspicions was that some of the copper items found in the pickup were from Grand County, including several that were labeled as belonging to Grand Lake Plumbing. One of the copper fittings still had an attached paper tag with a written note identifying it as connected to a building project in the Fraser Valley.

Vail Police contacted Grand Lake Plumbing, which confirmed that its copper items had been stolen in burglaries from construction sites at Pole Creek, County Road 8 and Rendezvous in the Fraser-Winter Park area. The Grand County Sheriff’s Office was contacted with this information.

The Vail Police arrested and interrogated the two suspects. One of the men allegedly admitted they were part a group of illegal immigrants who had been burglarizing construction sites.

A week after the Vail arrests, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) informed the Fraser-Winter Park Police Department that the serial number of a power tool reported stolen in the Fraser Valley had been located at a Denver pawn shop.

In a joint operation, Grand County Sheriff’s Investigator Leo Piechocki and Amy Zacek-Smith, a detective with the Fraser-Winter Park Police, began running checks of Denver-area pawn shops. Their investigation was able to link the two arrested suspects with several stolen tools that had been pawned.

Piechocki and Zacek-Smith’s investigation also discovered links to a third suspect who had also pawned stolen tools from Grand County. From the pawn shop records, the third suspect was identified.

Piechocki said that none of the three identified suspects lived or worked in Grand County.

Piechocki and Zacek-Smith were able to recover $6,000 in tools stolen from Grand County from the Denver-area pawn shops. Another $6,000 in tools taken during the local construction site burglaries have not yet been found.

Piechocki said the thefts in Grand County between July and October 2006 had a pattern of two-to-four construction sites being hit on a single night, followed by no further burglaries for a week or more. He believes the theft ring was alternating its burglaries among different counties to avoid being caught.

“We plotted out the thefts in Fraser, Winter Park, Granby and the rest of Grand County with the dates of thefts in Vail,” Piechocki said. “We determined that Vail was hit on the days we weren’t.”

In addition to power tools, the thieves stole large amounts of copper items from the sites.

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