Music Gear Thefts Dealt a Blow After 130 Arrested in Houston
In January, Saving Country Music did an in-depth look at how the City of Houston was becoming the Stolen Music Gear Capital of the World. From high profile cases to small-time thefts, to musicians getting robbed at gunpoint to having their rigs stolen after simply stopping for a bite to eat, the problem for artists touring or based in Houston was so prevalent and the thieves were so bold, it had some artists second guessing even playing in the city.
And now we know why.
On Tuesday (6-28), the Houston Police Department, in conjunction with the nearby Pasadena and Baytown Police Departments and the Department of Homeland Security, arrested 130 people in a massive operation called “Operation Wheels and Deals.” After months of investigations, Houston Police discovered that many of the vehicle and trailer thefts were part of an organized crime ring that patrolled various parts of the city, specifically looking for vehicles pulling trailers—the very scenario most touring bands find themselves in. They would steal the vehicles and trailer, but ditch the vehicles and focus more on the high value contents inside.
How many of the recent thefts involving artists and bands are tied to this specific syndicate of thieves has yet to be determined, but it was specifically the theft of multiple items, including a 100-year-old fiddle from Texas country music artist Zane Williams, that helped police connect the dots to the crime ring that has affected not just musicians, but manufacturers, small business owners, and many other individuals throughout the Houston area, and people traveling through the area.
“HPD’s burglary and theft division, in which I’m the captain over, was investigating a large theft that involved musical equipment for Texas country singer Zane Williams,” says Captain Daryn Edwards of the Houston Police Department. “When recovering his property, they discovered an entire inventory of motorcycle apparel and accessories at this location. This was basically a mom and pop business that had lost their entire inventory. Through zealous investigation, our burglary and theft detective began to suspect a large criminal enterprise that were involved in targeting big ticket items, usually transported via large trailers, in which the trailer and all of its contents were stolen.”
On May 16th of 2015, Zane Williams had his van and trailer stolen in the northwest part of town. Zane and his band were on their way to Galveston when they stopped to eat dinner. When they exited the restaurant, they found the van and trailer missing. But unlike the other incidents, Zane had installed a GPS tracking device in his trailer and was able to follow the assailants on his phone.
The key to the Houston Police Department’s Operation Wheels and Deals was proving that the thefts were part of a greater organization so that criminals could be susceptible to more stringent charges as opposed to being arrested, and ending up back out on the streets months later.
“Analysis revealed that most individuals upon conviction were receiving lesser sentences because of these property crimes than criminals involved in such things as narcotics trafficking,” says Capt. Edwards. “Analysis also revealed that certain communication methodology was utilized in order to facilitate a greater profit margin for this enterprise. Our CID detectives presented our finding to the DA’s office, and showed that this was not an organized crime ring in the traditional sense, but it was mainly criminals working in groups of 10, that were interchanging groups based on their job skills, and the geographical locations of targeted property. Reviews of past sentencing demonstrated that these individual were on average receiving nine months of time, but would only serve about half of that amount. However enhancement of the charge to engaging in organized criminal activity for these individuals would now subject them to a 10 to 15 year prison sentence.”
The 130 arrests have resulted in over 200 charges. 80 of the individuals were arrested by the Houston Police Department, with other police departments and agencies arresting the other individuals. More individuals involved are still under investigation.
“The majority of these individuals have been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity,” says Capt. Edwards. “Other charges include aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault, felony theft, and retaliation. And to date the amount of property recovered is estimated to be upwards of $2 million dollars. In the course of this past year, this collaborative effort, through cooperation and communication, flexibility and a focused work ethic has led to the dismantling of this criminal enterprise.”
The Black Lillies, fiddle player Ruby Jane, and other bands and music performers have been the victims of theft in Houston over the last few years. But it was the Zane Williams theft that brought a bigger focus on the problem.
“That got our division involved. One of our detectives was involved in that case, and led us to a house, or location where other property was being stored,” says Lt. Mike Osina, who was the head of the operation. “[The criminals] called it ‘shopping.’ They would drive around, all over the greater Houston area, and look for a vehicle with a trailer on it. They would sit on it and see if anybody was going to come to it. If somebody was going inside to eat, they would steal it. They didn’t care about the vehicles, they wanted to contents of the trailer.”
Pawn shops, where many people believe stolen musical equipment and other items end up, were not involved. Most items were sold via word of mouth, and some of the contents were sent to Mexico for sale.
“Thank you, boys in blue,” Zane Williams said via Twitter on Tuesday.
June 29, 2016 @ 11:24 am
Excellent news. Hopefully, this puts a big dent in the theft ring, and sets an example for anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to make their living by taking away from a productive member of society.
June 29, 2016 @ 11:37 am
Hooray!!!!!! I am so glad to see this, and their smart approach to catching the whole ring instead of smacking the hands of a few thieves. My band was robbed on the road last year (not Houston though, this is a big problem in several cities); coulda been worse for sure but we had heard about band robberies at venues and hotels, and only let our guard down for 20 minutes while grabbing lunch at a popular tib joint on a quiet sunday after a show. They HAD to have been watching us. That indescribable sick feeling when you realize you have been violated and things you hold dear are taken from you – I NEVER want to feel that again!
FYI to all you van/trailer travelers, it takes literally 2 seconds to breach a typical van door lock with just a screwdriver. TWO seconds. And extra security measures AND a GPS or other means of tracking is very much worth it – lesson learned the hard way!
June 29, 2016 @ 12:50 pm
It was Zane Williams’ use of a GPS device that not only helped them catch the thieves in his case, but allowed the police to eventually expose the entire network of thieves. That’s one way a GPS device can not only help you, but help roll up these crime rings.
June 30, 2016 @ 5:00 pm
When I used to roadie for smaller bands doing national tours of clubs and the like we’d usually have a van or a van with a trailer attached. Part of my job, on several tours, was to sleep in the van when it was parked at night and essentially be the security guard. Not as comfortable as a hotel room, but I was getting paid to do it and it did help. Anyone watching the vehicle would realize I was still in there and I’d often be up reading at night so my reading light would be on etcetera. I awoke to suspicious noises outside the van on two different tours and just by shouting and getting out of the vehicle managed to chase off whoever it was trying to break in. Guard the van, help load and unload the van, take shifts driving the van … That was the boring part of the job. The fun part was being at a different venue every night and watching a different line-up of bands just about every night while I sold the t-shirts and CDs and chatted with people – venue staff, other road crew, musicians from the other bands, fans (female fans … ) Anyways, I made about a million useful contacts in the music industry at the grassroots level and that was worth every backache from nights spent in those vans in the end. So that’s a low tech solution that requires some manpower but definitely put a GPS in, no brainer these days.
June 29, 2016 @ 11:40 am
* RIB * joint 🙂
June 29, 2016 @ 11:48 am
BUILD THE WALL!
June 29, 2016 @ 1:16 pm
I know it’s a joke, but in fairness, if you look at ALL of the faces of the individuals arrested, there are Caucasians and African Americans as well. Houston also has a very large native Hispanic population since it’s the biggest city of a border state. Some of those families have been there for generations.
June 29, 2016 @ 1:37 pm
That’s very politically correct of you there, Trigger. Very proud of you.
June 29, 2016 @ 1:53 pm
Look, with everyone being so wound up around politics these days, I just don’t want anyone coming here and thinking this story has something to do with race. These dudes are scumbags, no matter who they are, or how they got here. And even then they deserve a day in court. There are artists this site covers with face tattoos, criminal pasts, etc.
June 30, 2016 @ 9:48 am
See, this is what I’m talking about:
“Trigger, there’s quite a bit of blatant racism in the comments section. It reflects horribly on country music fans and contributes nothing positive. It’s been up long enough that you’ve read it and allowed it to remain. I’ve read this site for years. I won’t be back.”
Your jokes are costing me readers. Just like my “political correctness” (ha!) is costing me others. How about we all just put politics aside and celebrate that these scumbags are off the street?
June 29, 2016 @ 3:16 pm
Yea there was (1) white dude and (1) black guy from all 75 mugshots that I examined carefully. This was definitely a very diverse group of people. Definitely no evidence of any ties to the Mexican cartels and their subservient gangs.
June 30, 2016 @ 10:06 am
Thanks for speaking up about the generalizations of any person who is /could be of Hispanic descent. Seems too many people forget about the people who were already in Texas, California, etc., before it was even the United States. Or the fact that not everyone is from Mexico.
Anyway, I must be blind or exhausted, but where can I find all of the mugshots?
June 30, 2016 @ 10:13 am
There is a picture/video here:
But that’s not all that were arrested. Some of them do not have photos, and some were arrested outside of Houston.
Roy Dwyer Jones
June 30, 2016 @ 2:03 pm
No bmexicans lmao i seen one black dude you people are blind and naive
June 30, 2016 @ 2:12 pm
Nobody said there were “no” Mexicans.
June 29, 2016 @ 11:53 am
Glad these dirtbags were caught. Unfortunately they will more than likely be back out on the streets before I finish writing this.
June 29, 2016 @ 12:52 pm
Hypothetically, that’s where the organized crimes charges come in. That’s what the Houston Police saw, that catching them wasn’t the problem all the time, it’s that the jail was like a revolving door for them. If you bring more serious charges, hopefully these repeat offenders will be taken off the street and get an opportunity to learn their lesson.
July 2, 2016 @ 6:53 am
That’s why it’s so bothersome when DAs consider it just a property crime and so much less harmful than violent crime. I know people who’s business has been shut down because of property crimes. How many bands have to give up or break up because they lost what, $10,000 of equipment? Throw in car and trailer and you can double or triple that.
Great work by HPD and I hope other cities pay attention to the dedicated and innovative work on this.
June 29, 2016 @ 12:38 pm
Did Williams get his 100-year-old fiddle back? It makes me sick to think about musical instruments in the hands of people who only care about the $$$ they can make by stealing it.
June 29, 2016 @ 12:39 pm
They’re just doing the jobs Americans won’t do. They all came here to work hard. Any more platitudes you care to add?
June 29, 2016 @ 2:35 pm
If only they were all white. Then, they’d just be meth-heads and child molesters instead of stealing musical instruments.
June 30, 2016 @ 4:44 am
Yeah, because caucassians don’t do crime, right?
June 30, 2016 @ 8:28 am
They do, but they generally don’t send stuff back to Mexico. Mexicans do.
June 29, 2016 @ 1:36 pm
They look real sharp…I’m surprised they would do this.
June 29, 2016 @ 3:17 pm
June 29, 2016 @ 3:03 pm
June 29, 2016 @ 3:18 pm
Great news. Seems like every week for awhile i was hearing about someones gear getting ripped off.
June 29, 2016 @ 3:27 pm
Did someone say, “BUILD THE WALL..!”
June 29, 2016 @ 3:38 pm
This is the kind of news story that I like to see!
June 29, 2016 @ 3:44 pm
Just happened to JD Simo in Rome yesterday. Stole their trailer that included his ’67 Deluxe Reverb, props to the HPD.
June 29, 2016 @ 4:11 pm
The only reason we know about this today is because of the tracking device.
I’ve been doing this same with a program called “lookout” and a tracphone. $9.99 a month is cheap compared to gear and the trailer and the fucking hassle of trying to get it back.
I test my system every other day. Low battery or service expired with the phone all you want data plan for that phone.Good luck.
June 29, 2016 @ 8:51 pm
Lookout is a budget GPS location app for a smart phone I believe. There are much better/precise and more stable systems, maybe even one by Dewalt that would be a better choice of course cosine ring the equipment value to earning ratio.
June 29, 2016 @ 5:30 pm
nice to see the racist faction of the community of country music lovers represented here.
some people can’t ever give it a rest.
June 29, 2016 @ 6:35 pm
I shudder to think of how bad it’s going to get in the unlikely event that that orange toddler gets elected to the White House.
June 30, 2016 @ 5:17 am
June 30, 2016 @ 6:32 am
July 1, 2016 @ 1:33 pm
oh kinda like the revolutionary war was technically treason according to britian?
Ken Morton, Jr.
June 29, 2016 @ 7:04 pm
Congrats to the men and women involved at the Houston Police Department. Hopefully the DA will ask for some steep sentences.
June 29, 2016 @ 7:17 pm
Professional thieves should be summarily executed upon conviction. These vermin will be given a few months in jail, probation, or a slap on the wrist and be back on the street within hours stealing again. Only death will stop them.
June 30, 2016 @ 6:30 pm
You should actually read the article. Organized crime & collusion charges are a LOT more serious than just theft. And they seem to have evidence that will make it stick, so they have ample room to make these MFs pay, BIG TIME.
July 1, 2016 @ 5:54 am
What happens will likely depend on their immigration status. If they are technically “American citizens,” by extension of the law, but not in any real sense, then what you say will probably happen. If they are illegals, they will be turned free. A van full of them was burglarizing houses in my neighborhood. The cops caught them and brought them to jail. They were illegals, so the cops contacted INS. INS said to let them go. My buddy, who is a cop, told me that unless the perps commit assault, murder, rape, etc., which they often do, they are told to let them go on lesser crimes, because they will never show back up in court anyway. So they were released. The local new station had video of them actually running from the police station when they were released. So, if you are a citizen, you pay for your crimes. If you are an illegal, they just let you go.
July 2, 2016 @ 7:07 am
The amount of crap ICE officers have to go through to arrest an alien with no prior convictions is sickening. They have to get permission from the Field Office Director to place a hold even for someone who’s been criminally arrested, regardless of the severity of the criminal arrest. There are only about 30 Field Office Directors, so they’re rarer than governors. The turn around time for permission varies from 3 hours to more than 12 hours. That’s enough time for sex offenders and man slaughterers to pay bail and ICE misses the case.
Imagine how few criminals police would arrest if they had to get permission from the governor to arrest someone with no prior convictions. As you can imagine this is a relatively new policy. Less than 10 years ago all that mattered was the immigration status.
June 29, 2016 @ 7:58 pm
GPS tracking devices may cost a bit, but they will pay for themselves when something like this happens. Glad to see this situation finally ended the way it did.
June 29, 2016 @ 9:02 pm
The Dewalt Mobilelock is just such a GPS tracking device and can detect tampering, vibration and movement and then track a trailer, truck etc in real time with in 8 feet, Im glad to see they are taking this seriously, its past just a few gang members its become epidemic, In St Louis the problem is just as bad, Buy one of these GPS trackers and stop the worry, its 30 day battery supply, easily recharges and Cell Tower signals can even track into buildings etc. Sat Imgaes can be watched via PC, Cell Phone and Tablet.They cost 220.00 what does a trailer filled with Vintage Band gear cost, we sell them via our Facebook page, Pearl Pro Case, we can build them into cases, amplifiers, guitar cases, anywhere. Id like to see way more of these folks behind bars, Musicians bring beauty to the World, Long Live Live Music
June 29, 2016 @ 9:26 pm
Our trailer was broken into in Houston after our big band played a gig at the Chandalier Ballroom. Thieves broke into the trailer at our motel and took our eighty year old bandleader’s entire big band library, which is irreplaceable. Losing the electronic equipment, 1940’s derby hat stands, etcetera was not as heartbreaking as knowing the thieves likely discovered the music was not valuable TO THEM and probably dumped it somewhere.
I even called a news station from a local TV station and they came to the hotel to interview our band leader and musicians.
Pretty tough to drive back to Dallas knowing that you have NOTHING to put in front of your musicians for the next gig.
Other band leaders helped us out, but Mr. Melick was never able to recover many of our special arrangements.
I am so happy that this crime ring has been discovered!!! Thanks to all who were/are a part of bringing these people to justice.
If there is a way to check and see if they may have NOT discarded our library. I would love to know.
Jack Melick’s name is on all of the instrumental books holding music (4 saxes, 3 trumpets, 1 -2 trombones, piano, bass, drums). He is about to turn 88 and I would love to see us get back to playing his favorites!! He is still amazing!!
Thank you, again!!
July 1, 2016 @ 11:02 am
Scan that music. We have hundreds of arrangements we made for string ensemble. The musicians play from copies. But, we have smartphones with the PDFs and they are available by web browser from an unpublicized URL. We can always get copies, even if someone at home has to email a file.
July 2, 2016 @ 7:10 am
Contact HPD and tell them you were a victim and you’d like to recover items. They should be able to help you, I hope. If the switchboard isn’t helpful ask for the detective by name and see if you can talk to him directly.
June 29, 2016 @ 9:26 pm
How do you find out if an item was recovered? My son had a Les Paul Gibson guitar stolen, we have the serial number
June 29, 2016 @ 9:29 pm
At the press conference, the Houston Police said all the stolen items they had in their possession had been returned to owners. That doesn’t mean items may not be found in the future. According to them, the investigation and operation is ongoing.
June 30, 2016 @ 12:31 am
this makes me so happy! I was victim 2 years ago while on stage at Sams boat on Westheimer playing when they drove off with my Suburban trailer and big PA. when I was done with my show and went out to the parking lot it was gone. 3 light skinned bald guys with long with tees on video but they knew where the cameras where bc you couldn’t make out their faces. they dumped my Suburban on i10 and lockwood area no trailer ever found. said part os I paid the valet to watch it but there was an accident in the parking lot so the valet was diverted while the robbery took place….inside job? lol, I hope to may e recovery something from it. I would love to get on contact with chief investigating officer on this id anyone knows. Cheers to the law enforcement for being patient and catching the big fish.
June 30, 2016 @ 6:58 am
I know I’m not supposed to say such a mean and nasty thing in case I hurt some grown-ass man or woman’s feelings, but facial tattoos look bleeping horrible and I would not hire somebody with them if they would be dealing directly with customers.
June 30, 2016 @ 9:22 am
Trigger, there’s quite a bit of blatant racism in the comments section. It reflects horribly on country music fans and contributes nothing positive. It’s been up long enough that you’ve read it and allowed it to remain. I’ve read this site for years. I won’t be back.
June 30, 2016 @ 9:44 am
First off, I apologize if you are/were offended by some of the comments on this article. But I did address it, and got called out for being too “politically correct” for it.
Here are the links:
My second comment was:
“Look, with everyone being so wound up around politics these days, I just don’t want anyone coming here and thinking this story has something to do with race. These dudes are scumbags, no matter who they are, or how they got here.”
I actually have deleted a couple of comments from this comments section. I would delete more, but 1) sometimes it’s hard to know what is real and what is sarcasm. 2) From my experience over the years, sometimes deleting comments doesn’t solve a problem, it exacerbates it. People complain, “Oh, you deleted our comments, but not the comments of folks on the other side.” That why I would appreciate EVERYONE keeping their politics to themselves. I work very hard to keep Saving Country Music a political-free zone, and I frankly don’t think it is fair that I would be judged because of the comments of others. I’m doing the best job I can in a situation that’s like walking on eggshells, while only using censorship as a last resort.
This was an important story on a subject I’ve been following and reporting on in depth for years. Again, I sincerely apologize if you were offended by something in this comments section. But to never read Saving Country Music again because of someone else’s opinion seems a little unfair. I sincerely hope you reconsider because I value all of my readers, and want SCM to be an inclusive place for everyone.
June 30, 2016 @ 11:35 am
Trigger, thanks for the response. It doesn’t matter whether anyone is offended by it. I certainly wasn’t offended by any of it.
My problem is that there’s absolutely nothing positive to be gained by discussing the race of the people who perpetrated these crimes (or alluding to it the way that several posters have). Their race doesn’t matter.
Meanwhile, comments like some of the ones above reinforce horrible stereotypes. Even beyond the blatantly racist posts like RD’s, you’ve got something like Johnny D’s “build that wall” post. Why do we need a wall? This isn’t a post about jobs or trade. It’s about theft. The only conclusion you can draw from his post is, “We need to build a wall in order to keep out the Mexicans, because they’re all thieves.” There’s nothing positive about that. It’s just a terrible thing to say.
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s funny. If you ran a story about DeFord Bailey or Charley Pride and people were making jokes about lynchings or slavery, would you allow it? It’s not a matter of political correctness, it’s about people not being assholes.
If you want to provide a forum for people to say those things, it’s fine. But if you’re trying to help steer country music into a more positive direction while amassing as many readers as possible, you might want to rethink allowing comments that reinforce negative stereotypes about country fans while also alienating a large portion of your potential audience. Thanks, again.
June 30, 2016 @ 8:21 pm
Joking about building a wall, and joking about committing murder is not an apples to apples comparison. You act like I am endorsing these people’s comments, when I am personally responding to them in kind. I can’t think of anything more American that offering an open forum where people can assert their freedom of speech. When I saw some things I didn’t like, I deleted some, and I responded to others, and I would encourage others to do so as well. This is a comments section, and like any comments section on the internet, it’s always best if you bring a thick skin. And it’s always your right to just ignore the comments sections if you choose.
I totally agree that some of the comments here are helping to reinforce negative stereotypes, and they may in some minor way be hurting this site. But instead of acting like those stereotypes don’t exist, I am using this forum to openly debate them, as are you. As are others. This is one of the things I like about Saving Country Music’s comments sections. I like the spirited discourse, I like the dissent, I like the discussion. I think it is healthy. I think it is important that we see other people’s viewpoints.
And again, I can’t emphasize enough the lessons I have learned over the years about being too harsh at deleting comments.
I appreicate your feedback here and I am certainly taking it under advisement for how I deal with comments sections in the future. I’m not saying my way is perfect. All I’m saying is that I’m trying, and I would appreciate everyone’s understanding, and to try to respect my wishes that Saving Country Music be a safe haven from any political hatred or reactionary posturing.
June 30, 2016 @ 10:16 pm
Again, I appreciate your response. I didn’t imply in any way that you were endorsing the responses. This isn’t a matter of free speech. This is a private website, and you’re allowing these people to have a forum. I can’t encourage (or contribute financially) to that sort of behavior, so I’ll choose to not come here anymore. Best of luck.
July 1, 2016 @ 5:37 am
How are you contributing financially?
June 30, 2016 @ 9:52 am
cant stand people like you
June 30, 2016 @ 12:41 pm
There hasn’t been any racism. I’m pretty sure Canadian or Mexican or Honduran or Argentinian or American or British or Israeli are not races. They are nationalities. So you could argue that some of comments were prejudice towards a nationality. Like North America…Latin America is comprised of several races or a various mixture of races.
See people of Latin American or descent:
Camaron Diaz, Ramón Antonio Gerardo Estévez a.k.a “Martin Sheen,” Zoe Saladan, Alberto Fujimori, Canelo Alvarez, Andy Garcia, Henry Ian Cusick, Bruno Mars etc..
Also there is a strong relationship between these criminals/gang members that work for the Mexican Cartel(s) to our immigration policy. We seem to have infatuation on calling people racists these day.
June 30, 2016 @ 11:23 am
By the way, Zane is an unbelievably talented songwriter and a prince of a guy. Highly recommended!
June 30, 2016 @ 12:38 pm
It wasn’t “the Zane Williams theft that brought a bigger focus on the problem,” and credit here doesn’t belong to the police, who appear to be doing a victory lap. A victim had a GPS device in his trailer, and when this victim led police to its location, they found more than just his violin!
In other words, it wasn’t police work that ended this, it was a musician who was adapting to playing a crime-ridden area where said police couldn’t fix the problem. The article plainly states that the people stealing the instruments were arrested multiple times, yet somehow the justice system couldn’t figure out who was stealing musical instruments… Encyclopedia Brown could’ve solved this in 30 seconds.
June 30, 2016 @ 6:18 pm
Nice facial tattoos you fucking morons.
June 20, 2017 @ 4:00 pm
Damn fool crooks. Priorities are skewed. Spending money on tats. Instantly unemployable…..as if they would want to get an honest job in the first place.
Douchebags ripping off honest hard working musicians. Fuck them