Tampa, Florida -- A warning for all lawn care companies and people who own lawn equipment -- lock it up tight!
A massive theft ring has been cracked in Hillsborough County where five career criminals, sheriff's detectives say, were preying on mom and pop lawn businesses, then turning around and selling the stuff for big bucks to the tune of a quarter million dollars.
Operation Lawn Enforcement was unveiled Monday, a year-long effort, where detectives tracked thousands of dollars in lawn care equipment. Some people got their stuff back, like Corinne Shaw. But, the initial shock she says was unnerving.
"You feel violated. It was an awful feeling," she told 10 News.
Corrine says it felt like a slap in the face.
She and her husband were violated. Their lawn care equipment was stolen from the driveway of their Tarpon Springs home.
"Waking up and seeing it all gone, you feel lost," she admitted.
The family owns a small lawn business called KC Lawn Care, and when they went outside last August, everything they had was missing.
"It's a small business. That's what people depend on to get paid," Corinne says.
Little did Corinne and her husband Keith know, they were victims of a huge theft ring going on all over the Bay area, as far back as 2009. Career criminals, detectives say, were doing dirty work at night stealing from innocent small lawn-care companies.
"I feel terrible," says Corinne. "Some people didn't get their equipment back and had to declare bankruptcy."
Detective Joe Testa with the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office says, "Corinne was lucky her stuff was returned, but not everyone got their stuff back. You feel bad for people."
Luckily, Corinne and her husband were able to get back on their feet, but their truck was totaled. It turns out, in this bust, all kinds of things were targeted from peoples' driveways in the middle of the night -- including mowers, weed eaters and trailers. The equipment was taken from other counties and sold in Hillsborough County.
Corinne offers some advice, "Lock your stuff up! Ours was in the driveway because it was raining that night and we were in a hurry. Put a GPS system in it. We have it in ours now!"