By Phil Dunn
– New Jersey State Police have uncovered another ring of construction and heavy farm equipment theft in Salem County that is believed to total $ 280,000, bringing the total recovered to approximately $ 1 million in equipment .
George Rost, 47, of Quinton, along with Sean Harris, 32, and Robert Vile, 35, all of Salem, have been charged with second degree theft, concealment, third degree fencing, obstruction and tampering with evidence, according to the state police. Oswald Vile, 66, of Salem has been charged with obstruction, but is not considered to be actually part of the theft ring.
This is the second network of machine thefts in Salem County in the past month.
“During this (initial) investigation by Private Erik Ariza, he conducted a number of interviews and searches of many residences in Salem County,” said State Police Detective Sgt. . First Class William Henry at Woodstown Barracks Friday. “It took us to Delaware, Pennsylvania, and northern Jersey.”
Michael T. Harkins, 45, of Franklinville, was arrested in the first ring of thefts; Jeramin M. Holbert, 30, of Newfield; Kenneth R. Costill, 61, of Pilesgrove; and James Edwards, 72, of Pilesgrove.
While Ariza investigated the first reported theft ring, in which more than $ 800,000 in equipment was stolen, this second unrelated ring was discovered.
The equipment was reportedly taken from Salem County and taken to other locations to be stored and ultimately sold, police said.
As a result of this investigation and with the help of other state police units, $ 280,000 of stolen equipment was recovered. This most recent investigation took place over a two-week period and used 30 to 35 state police officers.
The items found include bulldozers, a backhoe loader, a pallet loader, a utility vehicle, horse trailers and a Mack truck, police said.
The first case began in early November, when state police opened an investigation into the theft of heavy machinery in the Salem County area.
“The equipment was stolen from commercial companies like Pole Tavern Equipment in (Upper Pittsgrove),” Henry said. “We have had machines stolen from local farmers, especially dairy farmers and commercial vegetable growers. “
Police said the first ring had apparently been functioning for around 14 years, while the other had only been active for around six months.
However, some items were stolen as early as the early 1980s.
“During the first investigation, we learned that items had been stolen as early as 1980,” Henry said. “The objects discovered included a Mack truck and a 35-foot trailer. “
Harkins worked as a union machine operator and police said he was very familiar with the equipment and had access to the keys to the equipment.
“It is alleged that he (Harkins) stole a machine for $ 75,000 and was then able to sell it to an owner for $ 14,000,” Henry said. “It was basically their business and it was their main source of income.”
Equipment stolen in the second flight circle was classified as medium or compact in size. They were able to move most of the equipment with 5,000 pound trailers, state police said.
“At one point our aviation unit picked up soldiers from Woodstown station and took them to northern Jersey so that we could continue our investigation,” Henry said.
State police said 75 percent of stolen goods have been recovered, but they still find more items.
The only connected feature of the two networks is that they were stealing similar equipment and all in the same area, state police said.
“I have been a soldier for 15 years. As far as I know, this is the largest large-scale operation that we have discovered, ”said Henry. “A million dollars in recovered property is the largest I have ever been involved in. “
All those charged were held in the Salem County Correctional Facility. The deposit varies from $ 20,000 to $ 750,000 depending on their involvement. They have all since posted a bond.
Area residents are encouraged to contact Woodstown State Police for any information relevant to this investigation at