Plywood theft ring nailed, ending night-time construction site raids in suburban Charlotte

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Jose Saul Morales Veneroso
Jose Saul Morales Veneroso, described in court filings as the purchaser of the stolen plywood.

Police have broken as plywood theft ring in Charlotte’s North and South Carolina suburbs, and arrested four men in the plot.

According to authorities, the thieves cased unguarded residential construction sites in the night, stealing lumber, and then delivering the contraband to one of the conspirator’s homes.

Pablo Morales Hernandez
Pablo Morales Hernandez

Filings in the Charlotte federal courts identify the defendants as brothers Pablo Morales Hernandez and Rafael De Jesus Morales Hernandez, along with Renato Hernandez Montes and Jose Saul Morales Veneroso, all of Charlotte, the Charlotte Observer reported on Feb. 23.

“We had encounters with three of the four men,” Carolina Gateway on March 1 quoted Lancaster County Sheriff’s spokesman Doug Barfield as saying. “Three of them were arrested for other stuff, drug offenses mainly.”

Documents filed in court say that both Pablo and Rafael Morales-Hernandez were arrested in Indian Land in January for drug-related crimes by the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office.

Renato Hernandez Montes
Renato Hernandez Montes

Hernandez-Montes was also arrested by the sheriff’s office in Indian Land for possession of a controlled substance (2 grams of methamphetamine) and for receiving stolen goods by having a firearm that didn’t belong to him. He was previously arrested for being an illegal alien in the United States in 2018, the published reports say.

The defendants are each charged with interstate transportation of stolen property conspiracy and are being held in the Mecklenburg County jail.

Nathan Peachey, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations, says in an affidavit that the defendants treated unguarded home sites like unlocked banks.

Rafael Morales-Hernandez
Rafael Morales Hernandez

During repeated overnight raids on Charlotte’s emerging exurbs, the men stole thousands of dollars in plywood from home-construction sites, the affidavit says. They favored new South Carolina neighborhoods  including Indian Land and Fort Mill, and other homebuilding sites in North Carolina in Charlotte, Union County and Concord, Peachey wrote in the affidavit.

Prosecutors say Morales Veneroso purchased the plywood, “paying the others between $15 and $25 for individual sheets that sold for $70 to $80 in area home improvement stores,” the Charlotte Observer reported. “He also told them what construction areas to hit for their contraband, prosecutors say. The court documents don’t say what he did with the lumber products he bought.”

The retail value of the plywood the defendants stole from the Fort Mill and Indian Land areas alone topped $5,000, Peachey’s affidavit says.

Police caught the thieves by being in the right place at the right times. They discovered brothers Pablo and Raael De Jesus Morales Hernandez in a blue van driving slowly past construction sites, Peachey’s affidavit alleges.

“The deputy also found some open beer containers, glass smoking pipes and more than 2 grams of methamphetamine, the affidavit alleges. While the brothers were arrested on drugs and alcohol charges, according to the affidavit, the topic of their interviews with investigators in the coming days would soon turn to plywood.”

Later, on Jan. 20, “deputies found Hernandez Montes in a parked van by a home site in the Avondale community, also in Indian Land. He was arrested on drug and weapon charges but told authorities the next day that his actual night job was stealing plywood with the Morales Hernandez brothers, the affidavit shows.”

“To increase their take, according to the affidavit, he bought a second van for the brothers to use for their thefts. As with the brothers, Hernandez Montes said he sold his contraband to Morales Veneroso, often dropping it off at the buyer’s home on Eastway Drive, according to the affidavit. Rafael Morales Hernandez told investigators that he started stealing plywood right around Christmas.

“By the time of his arrest, he had made 10 trips to steal plywood by himself, three other trips with his brother, and six or seven trips with Hernandez Montes, according to the affidavit. Morales Hernandez estimated that he was paid $500 to $550 per load.”

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