Arrest leads to break in ag theft ring

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Farm equipment recovered Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, at left, and Detective Doug Henry, at right, assigned to investigate theft suspect Howard Perryman, stand in front of stolen farm equipment recovered following Perryman's arrest on July 11. Democrat Photo/Bishoff

"Thursday [July 11] was one of the best days, to have Howard Perryman back in custody."

Those were the comments of Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly during a news conference held at Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop D in Springfield on Monday, July 15. Epperly appeared with Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott, Christian County Sheriff Joey Kyle and Captain Juan Villanueva, the commanding officer with Troop D.

Perryman, 67, who lives in Monett, was arrested on July 11 following an extensive investigation and a pursuit that extended from the Bois D'Arc Conservation Area in Greene County to rural Monett.

Perryman was charged on July 12 in Greene County Circuit Court with felony theft and is being held in the Greene County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond.

The news conference providing details of the arrest was held in the same location where the Patrol announced Perryman's arrest in May 13, 2010. At that time, approximately $350,000 in stolen farm equipment was recovered. Much of the property was found on the farm of Richard Hert, in the McDowell area.

Prosecution is still pending in that case. Perryman was released on a reduced bond, despite protests by Barry County Prosecutor Johnnie Cox.

Four pieces of farm equipment were displayed at the news conference. According to Sergeant Jason Pace, public information officer for the Patrol, the gooseneck trailer, two four-wheel-drive all-terrain vehicles, a 16-foot flatbed bumper hitch trailer and a 12-foot John Deere bush hog, were all seized by officers in different locations, in Christian, Dade, Jasper and Webster counties.

Pace said the amount of property traced to thefts where Perryman was implicated exceeded $100,000. Stolen items included trucks, tractors, utility vehicles and cattle.

Epperly said Perryman, a longtime resident of the Verona area, had access to several properties where stolen property could be placed, but did not own the land.

Pace credited the arrest to work by the State Livestock and Farm Protection Task Force, which was reactivated in 2009. Working with 11 other law enforcement organizations in several counties, the task force had investigated 1,300 cases and recovered more than $6 million in agriculture property, including cattle.

"In 1988, when I started in law enforcement," said Sheriff Arnott, "Howard Perryman was a cattle rustler then and he's a cattle rustler today. Since 1967, Perryman has been stealing. That's his career. He's been in and out of all of our jails."

Epperly added, "We'd like to keep him there forever."

Perryman was convicted and did prison time stemming from a 1988 case that involved the theft of cattle. According to Epperly, cattle owned by Cherry Warren, of Exeter, were rebranded and recovered out of state. Perryman was later named by grand juries in 1997 and 1998 probes.

Cattle theft remains a major area problem. Arnott said in 2012, 76 cattle worth $111,000 were stolen in Greene County alone. Two of those thefts have been solved. Officers recovered DNA in a theft from a paper towel left at the site of one theft that matched Perryman's profile, contributing to the latest arrest.

Epperly said he was suspicious when Perryman posted bond in 2010. Barry County Detective Doug Henry was assigned to continue the investigation into Perryman's activities. Henry worked with the task force and the Highway Patrol.

The law enforcement officials agreed there were others involved. Pace said with $6 million in property recovered in four years, "It's a big game of chess."

"One person can't be responsible for trafficking and marketing," Arnott said. "We've just started our investigation as we track them down."

Officers were still going to locations in search of stolen property, Epperly said. Perryman did not appear to be cooperating with the investigation, according to comments at the news conference.

Cattle thefts prove the most difficult to track, especially after ear tags have been removed. Arnott said tracking animals is one matter, and recovering them is quite another, especially once the cattle go out of state. Cases have shown animals from southwest Missouri have ended up in Oklahoma, Texas and Mississippi.

Sheriff Kyle stressed law enforcement relies on the public for information to break cases involving theft of agriculture products.

"Report suspicious behavior," Kyle said. "Be patient. Be vigilant. Do not make it easy for them to take cattle."

Pace provided recommendations for cattle owners, including watching truck activity around farms and being able to identify livestock. He advised removing cow panels and any farm equipment from fields. In the case of a theft, Pace advised checking fences, consulting with neighbors and calling the task force. Calls can be made at any hour to the task force hot line at 888-484-8477.

Epperly noted that all information is valuable. Even thefts of less significance, if reported, can tie together other cases at a later date that don't seem connected at first.

"Howard Perryman was very good at what he did," Epperly said. "It was an honor to work with the Patrol. We know the crime rate will go down a tremendous amount with him in custody."

Perryman has been scheduled for a preliminary hearing on Aug. 20 in Greene County Circuit Court before Judge Mark Powell. A public defender was assigned to Perryman's case.

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