Addicts swapped stolen items for drugs: Police

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staff, Gazette
Wednesday, May 22, 2013

— After breaking into a house for TVs, laptops or jewelry, some area burglars took their haul to a house on East Grand Avenue in Beloit, Janesville police Sgt. Jim Holford said.

They set the goods on a sorting table to be appraised by the people who ran the house, Holford said.

But the burglars wouldn't get cash for what they'd stolen from homes around Rock County, Holford said.

They got heroin or cocaine.

"It appears to be a straight drugs-for-property transaction," he said.

The underground market for stolen goods at the Beloit home had been operating for months before authorities searched it Saturday, Holford said.

Detective Kyle Austin estimated police found at least 20 TVs, 15 laptop computers and 10 video game systems in the house at 924 E. Grand Ave.

Holford said it was the largest operation he had seen—complete with an exchange rate for items to drugs—and an example of the many ways some addicts use stolen property to feed their addictions.

"This is exactly how illegal drugs drive property thefts and other crimes," Holford said. "You have drug users who have to fund their habits, (so) they go out and they victimize either residents or businesses … and then turn that into illegal drugs."

He called an estimate that police recovered $40,000 in merchandise from the home "very conservative."

From theft to drugs

Although operations as large and long-running as the one on East Grand Avenue are rare, Holford said there are a number of other ways addicts can make money from stolen property.

After boosting electronics, jewelry or metals such as copper, addicts might sell the stolen goods through pawn shops or scrap metal yards, Holford said.

Other times they go through private buyers, Holford said, who might be individuals or more sophisticated criminal enterprises.

Because buyers are purchasing items from people they know are desperate, those stolen laptops and flat-screens often are traded for a fraction of what they're worth, Holford said.

What the buyers do next depends on the goods.

They turn around and resell some, like those stolen TVs or even firearms, while jewelry and metals often are melted or sold for scrap, Holford said.

"Electronics and guns get resold, precious metals and such get turned into cash," he said.

Either way, the buyers make a lot more money from the items than the users were paid in drugs, Holford said.

Addicts need money to buy drugs so they steal and sell; the people they sell to then sell off again for a tidy profit. Thus turns the cycle of an underground economy driven at its base by the user's addiction.

"The addiction is so strong and these people become so desperate, these people are willing to do anything to feed that habit," Holford said. "They didn't start out thieves—it's the addiction that has driven them to this level of desperation."

Tailing a suspect

A burglary suspect might have unwittingly led police to the Beloit house at the center of this suspected operation, Austin said.

Misty L. Kvistad, 33, of Janesville, was arrested Friday night after stealing televisions, a gaming system and a laptop, among other items, from a town of Beloit home, according to a criminal complaint.

Janesville police had identified Kvistad as a suspect in a number of burglaries, and officers were following her when she visited the suspected drug house authorities later searched, Austin said.

Police also arrested Kenneth E. Harris II, 31, of Janesville Sunday on burglary charges, Holford said.

Authorities suspect Kvistad and Harris in more than 10 burglaries across Janesville, the city and town of Beloit and possibly other parts of Rock County, Holford said.

Kvistad has a number of prior drug and theft convictions, according to online records, and pleaded guilty to burglary in 2010.

She made an initial appearance Monday in Rock County Court, where she is charged with one count of felony burglary and one count of misdemeanor theft from the town of Beloit home.

It's likely Kvistad wasn't the only person selling stolen items at the Beloit house, Holford said.

"We suspect others were also, just by the sheer volume of property" officers recovered, he said.

No arrests at Beloit home

The home on East Grand Avenue was unoccupied when authorities searched it, and neither its owner nor its residents have been arrested, Beloit police Capt. Vince Sciame said.

Police had not yet contacted the residents as of Monday, Austin said.

The homeowner is listed in online property records as a man with a South Beloit, Ill., address.

Janesville detectives have spent much of this week trying to match items seized at the house to property reported missing in burglaries around the area, Austin said.

Asked what the house's residents were doing with the stolen items once they'd swapped them for drugs—how the underground economy went full circle—authorities said they were still investigating that.

"I'm sure there is a market for the equipment they were taking at the street level," Holford said.

Last updated: 10:33 am Tuesday, July 2, 2013

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