Car prowling victim leads deputies to 'prolific thieves'



Posted on March 20, 2014 at 10:51 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 20 at 5:40 PM

SPOKANE COUNTY, Wash. -- Two men were arrested Wednesday in what officials called a large vehicle prowling investigation involving crimes in Spokane and Kootenai counties.

Aaron Cunningham, 37, and Michael Belton, 29, were arrested near Northern Quest Casino after Sheriff’s Office detectives witnessed them break into a vehicle in the parking lot, authorities said.

KREM 2 News learned it was one of the victims who helped detectives bust the operation. That man asked to remain anonymous.

“I’m so tired of Spokane being the victim, with these 'numpties' out there doing what they do,” he said.

He said he filed a police report immediately after prowlers stole everything, including his backpack and laptop as well as Social Security and IRS paperwork for himself and his wife.

Sheriff’s deputies said the office had been slammed with car prowler reports during the weeks prior.

While this individual waited, he began an investigation of his own.

His bank told him where some of his stolen credit cards were being used and he was able to track down security surveillance footage from those places. He then began passing around photos from that video until someone identified the two suspects.

The man said his investigation took him more than 80 hours, but was worth it.

“You could be inactive and wait for other people to do things for you,” he said. “Or you can take an active role and try to do things for yourself.”

Deputies said this victim played a crucial role in the arrests of the men who they called, 'prolific thieves'.

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and SWAT members served two search warrants Wednesday on the 4300 block of N. Post and the 11000 block of E. 10th.

Investigators said evidence of vehicle prowling was found at both residences. More than 60 items  were collected at both locations that included multiple types of valuables, according to the Sheriff’s Office. 

Sheriff’s Office detectives linked Cunningham and Belton to at least 17 vehicle prowling incidents in Spokane Valley and Spokane County in the past six days.  Detectives said they expected to find more.

Authorities said one recent prowling involved a law enforcement vehicle where a ballistic vest with ‘Federal Agent’ embroidered on it, a 12-guage Winchester pump shotgun, and a 300 Ultra Mag Remington bolt action rifle with a scope was stolen. Anyone with any information as to the location of these items is asked to call Crime Check at 509-456-2233.
Detectives planned to contact the rest of the victims who reported stolen items that were recovered in the coming weeks.  The remaining items will be placed on the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page at a later date for identification. 

Cunningham and Belton were booked into jail for the charges of Vehicle Prowling, 2nd Degree Theft and Malicious Mischief.  The investigation is ongoing and additional charges were expected.