Monday February 13, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- A Main Street man who was arrested Friday -- a day after police carried out a search warrant at the Foster's Cannery on Benmont Avenue -- pleaded not guilty Monday in Bennington Superior Court Criminal Division to a felony count of possession of stolen property.

Leroy Lacross, 45, had been held on $15,000 bail over the weekend, but was released from court on conditions he reside in Bennington County and not have contact with Sonja Jaffee, 79, of Sandgate, the alleged victim of a theft.

According to an affidavit by Detective Trooper Scott Dunlap, of the Vermont State Police, on Feb. 2 Jaffee told police she had learned her house was burglarized sometime between Jan. 19 and 24 while she was away. She said she did not notice the thefts at first because nothing in the house was disturbed, but a few days later she found some jewelry was missing.

The items included Mexican silver jewelry, locally made silver jewelry, four diamond rings set in gold, a star ruby in heavy gold, ruby earrings, a ruby ring with diamonds, and a ruby necklace.

Jaffee told police some of the jewelry had been made by Katie Cleaver, a jewelry maker in Bennington, who she had also informed of the thefts.

On Feb. 4, Dunlap wrote that Jaffee and Cleaver contacted police after seeing some of the items Cleaver had created at Moose's Gold on North Street in Bennington.

Dunlap said he went to Moose's Gold on Feb. 6 and spoke with the co-owner, Justin Belleville, 28, who said the other owner, Derrick Brooks, 21, could meet him the next day. According to Dunlap, Belleville said some items the business buys prove to be stolen, but there is no way to tell at the time of purchase. He said it is a problem of the gold buying industry.

Dunlap said when he met with Brooks, he was handed a bag of jewelry that Jaffee had pointed out to them. Brooks said the items were bought from Preston Foster, owner of Foster's Cannery. Dunlap said receipts showed Moose's Gold paid $2,450 for the gold and silver, and the owners said Foster claimed to have bought it for $1,300.

Dunlap wrote that he then went to speak to Cleaver, who said that on Feb. 4, Reatha Williams, of Pownal, came into her shop to show her jewelry she thought Cleaver had made which she bought from Moose's Gold at scrap prices. Cleaver said she recognized some of it as items sold to Jaffee. She then notified Jaffee, which prompted Jaffee to look around Moose's Gold.

On Feb. 8, police obtained a search warrant for Foster's Cannery and the home of Foster in Bennington. The warrant was carried out the next day. Dunlap wrote that Mary Foster, 54, said a man named "Leroy," later identified as Lacross, would come around selling jewelry and described him to police.

Preston Foster returned while the building was being searched and said he had been made aware on Feb. 4 some of the jewelry might be stolen because people from Moose's Gold told him police had been asking about it.

According to Dunlap, Foster was hesitant to tell police the name of the person selling them jewelry because he did not want to get anyone in trouble, but Dunlap said he explained it would not be fair for Foster to take the blame. Foster then said Lacross was the seller and gave the same physical description Mary Foster had.

He told police that Lacross has brought jewelry in twice, the last time in January. He said he paid $1,800 for it and still owes Lacross $200. He said Lacross had come in on Feb. 8 for his money, but Foster told him the question over whether it was stolen meant he owed Moose's gold for it, so he did not pay Lacross. He said Lacross claimed the jewelry came from an estate.

Foster also told police if they searched his house they would find a bag of jewelry Lacross brought him. Dunlap said the bag was found and identified by Jaffee as being hers.

Dunlap said a surveillance tape at Foster's allowed them to identify Lacross, whom Dunlap recognized, and he and other troopers went looking for him in the Arlington area.

According to Dunlap, an investigation indicated Lacross was living at the Mid-Town Motel in Bennington with Bobbi Jo Stell, 34. Stell told police Lacross has large amounts of cash on him, and keeps some of his things in a shed in Arlington. She said one day he proposed marriage to her with a diamond ring that she was not sure how he could afford.

She said he also had a set of diamond earrings. After the shed Stell mentioned was searched, nothing was seized. The motel room was also searched, and a pair of diamond earrings and a diamond ring were found. A vehicle was also searched, and turned up plastic bags with labels indicating they held jewelry at one point.

Lacross was located and arrested. According to the affidavit, he told police he had obtained the jewelry from a person named "Ed," who he has picked up while walking on Sandgate Road. He said he paid $1,000 for the jewelry, but does not know Ed. He said he had no knowledge of the items being stolen. He offered to find out who Ed was, but then decided he no longer wished to speak to police.

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