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Thieves target lawn and landscape businesses for high-dollar equipment

COLUMBIA, Ill. – Authorities are searching for suspects that are targeting high-end lawn and landscaping businesses on both sides of the river.

Bi-County Small Engine Center, located just outside Columbia, Illinois, is among the businesses which have been hit.

The Metter family, which owns the business, says two men came in last Friday and bought $32,000 worth of equipment from mowers to weed eaters. They paid with a card, which was initially approved.

But after the men left with the equipment, the card turned out to be fraudulent.

“So it all seemed legit, it just apparently wasn’t,” said Jim Metter. “It’s aggravating for sure.”

The next day, another man came to buy more equipment in a similar way. Metter called the police and the man left.

He was later arrested in Columbia on unrelated charges and remains in custody.

Not far from Bi-County, Hartmann’s Turf and Tractor in Millstadt was also hit by thieves. In that instance, the criminals stole a truck with a trailer. The trailer had two mowers on it and a tractor.

The truck and trailer were recovered but not the equipment.

“It’s frustrating, you know? A lot of time extra time spent (that) we don’t have during busy season to deal with stuff like this,” said Ryan Wegener, operations manager at Hartmann’s Turf and Tractor.

Captain Bruce Fleshren, St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, isn`t sure if the Bi-County and Hartmann crimes are related. But he says his department is looking into multiple cases on both sides of the river with similar circumstances to what happened at Bi-County.

Investigators are trying to figure out if some cases could be connected.

“It’s unusual and clearly we’re talking high-dollar, it’s starting to climb to be a large amount of money if you piece all of these together and, in fact, they are connected,” he said.

Investigators tell us the two suspects who got away with equipment from Bi-County were in a white Chevrolet dually truck with dealer plates on it.

The truck had a box trailer with orange weed eaters attached to it.

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