Wagoner County Deputies discover chop shop after locating stolen vehicle
On 04/18/2022, Wagoner County Deputies were dispatched to the 26400 Block of East 18th Street South in the Catoosa area in an attempt to locate a stolen vehicle. The vehicle had been stolen out of Tulsa and the last known GPS location was plotting to an address in in that area.
Upon deputies arriving, multiple vehicles could be seen throughout a yard. Deputies began looking at the vehicles throughout the yard that were in view from the road. Deputies ran the license plates on the vehicles and discovered that many tags did not return to the correct vehicles. Additionally, deputies observed a trailer and searched for a serial number, but a metal bracket had been placed over where the number would be located. Deputies were able to get a partial number from the trailer and confirmed the utility trailer was stolen from a car dealership in the Bartlesville's area.
Deputies also observed a 2010's model Chevrolet Silverado, gray in color, sitting in the driveway. On the back of the Silverado, a temporary paper tag was displayed for a 2022 Jeep Gladiator. The Vehicle Identification Number observed through the windshield returned to a 2012 white in color Chevrolet Silverado that was a different color. As deputies searched the area a garage was located on the property. An approximately 2-inch gap could be seen in the garage door, allowing deputies to see inside the garage with ease. Inside the garage, a GMC Yukon was located and matched the description of the stolen vehicle they were searching for.
A search warrant was obtained by Wagoner County Deputies, and they made entry into the residence and garage. While inside the garage they observed that the GMC Yukon VIN in the windshield had been removed but the vehicle was able to be confirmed that it was stolen by another VIN on the door panel. Paperwork inside the vehicle also showed the VIN number of the stolen vehicle. Also located inside the garage was a black in color pickup truck with the front end stripped, numerous car parts, tools, a tool bag with "Merrill" on it near the stolen Yukon, and a key ring with numerous keys and car remotes attached inserted into the door handle. A sticker on one of the keys listed instructions on how to "Program key at vehicle." The keys were taken as evidence. Inside the residence, numerous pieces of mail identified Robert Merrill as the owner of the residence.
As deputies continued to search, they located a crystal-like substance in the bedroom that later field tested positive for methamphetamine. Numerous drug paraphernalia items were discovered including a metal spoon with a crystal-like substance on it, a small yellow in color glass mug also containing the crystal-like substance, a syringe, and a blue rubber band commonly used with narcotics. A box of syringes was also located in the bedroom along with a safe containing narcotics and scales in the bedroom closet.
Multiple laptops were also found within the residence. It is believed that the suspect was using them to print temporary paper tags for vehicles. Multiple blank bills of sales were located, one of which the top half was not completed, but there was an expired notarized signature on the bottom. A similar copy of the Bill of Sale was located, with the same notarized signature, but dated at the top the "sale" for a utility trailer for February 6, 2022. The trailer allegedly bought was reported stolen on February 4, 2022, through Bartlesville Police Department. Two laptops and miscellaneous paperwork were seized for evidence. The stolen utility trailer, the stolen GMC Yukon, and a 2012 Chevrolet Silverado with the non-matching VIN's was taken into custody for evidence. Gilbert's Wrecker Company of Coweta took possession of the property.
On 04/24/2022, Deputy E. Giles proceeded to Gilbert's Wrecker in an attempt to search the 2012 Chevy Silverado for the Vehicle Identification Number that is stamped into the frame of the vehicle and can only be removed by defacing the metal. Deputies examined the VIN, and the VIN did not match the VIN plate in the windshield or on the door. The VIN on the frame returned to a different vehicle as was suspected by deputies.
On 04/25/2022, Deputy E. Giles contacted South Pointe Chevrolet in Tulsa, OK to inquire about the VIN that was found on the vehicle chassis at Gilbert's Wrecker Service. An employee South Pointe advised the truck in question had been stolen off their lot and the report was just completed with Tulsa Police Department. The VIN displayed in the windshield of the truck, returned to a White in color Chevrolet Silverado. The Silverado was traced back to Copart Auction in Houston, TX. From there, the Silverado was sold to 360 Motors dealership in Muskogee, Ok. A representative with 360 Motors advised he sold the White Silverado cab and frame to a white male in his 40's approximately two weeks prior. The representative identified Robert Merrill as the male who purchased the Silverado cab and frame. Based off the new information uncovered, another search warrant was granted by a Wagoner County Judge.
On 04/26/2022, Deputies, along with the assistance of Tulsa Police Department's Auto Crimes Unit, executed the search warrant on the residence located in the 26400 Block of East 18th Street South in the Catoosa Area. During the execution of the second search warrant, it was discovered the VIN on a black in color Chevrolet appeared to be tampered with. The VIN stickers on the doors have been removed, along with the sticker inside the glovebox displaying the VIN. There was evidence of the windshield being taken off and replaced, as well as a scratch on the VIN plate in the windshield that was secured with incorrect rivets. The vehicle would require further investigation to retrieve the correct VIN number from the frame. The vehicle was seized for evidence and taken to Gilberts' Wrecker Service. During the search of the residence, another laptop was located in the living room as well as a DVR. Both items were taken for evidence. Inside the bedroom, a baggie containing a white in color, powdery substance was located on the nightstand. The white, powdery substance field tested positive for methamphetamine and weighed approximately 3.8 grams. The substance was taken for evidence.
Inside the garage, numerous keys were found for vehicles with identification tags attached to them. The vehicles for the keys were not located. Additionally, during the second search warrant, it was observed that three of the vehicles that were previously at the residence were no longer at the residence.
The VIN that was swapped from the White 2012 Chevrolet Silverado and placed on the Gray 2012 Chevrolet Silverado also traced back to an abandoned vehicle located and seized near the intersection of South 305th East Avenue and East 21st Street South on 04/15/2022 by Wagoner County Deputies. The cab of the truck had been shot numerous times and the been stripped to the frame. The VIN plate was cutout from the windshield. The deputy on scene stated he observed approximately 100 spent bullet casings in the roadway. During the investigation, Robert W. Merrill of Catoosa, OK was identified as the individual who previously bought this truck cab and frame from 360 Motors in Muskogee.
A warrant request was submitted to the Wagoner County District Attorney's Jack Thorp's Office for review. On 05-16-2022 a warrant was issued for the suspect and deputies executed the warrant at his residence on 05-17-2022 without incident. Robert W. Merrill was charged with 1.) Owning, Operating, or Dealing with a Chop Shop, 2.) Receive, Possess, Conceal a Stolen Vehicle (2 Counts), 3.) Receive, Possess, Conceal, Stolen Property, 4.) Engaging in pattern of criminal offenses, 5.) access computer system or network with unlawful intent, 6.) Possession of Forged evidence of debit, 7.) Altering or Forging Certificate of Title, 8.) Tampering with Security Equipment, 9.) Possession of Controlled Substance, and 10.) Unlawful Possession of Paraphernalia.
Wagoner County Deputies A. Torix, E. Giles, J. Carey, and Lt. M. Morgan were all involved in the case. Tulsa PD's Auto Crime Unit and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol assisted deputies during the investigation as well. The arrestees bond was set at $250,000.