Thieves steal lawn care equipment worth thousands from metro businesses

OLATHE, Kan. -- It's a sign of the season. As landscaping crews in the metro work on your yards, police say they're having to guard against thieves who aim to steal their equipment.

Those machines cost a lot of mean green, too. Multiple yard care companies have filed complaints with local police departments, claiming they've been ripped off by crooks targeting expensive lawnmowers and related equipment.

One local police department described it as "a crime of convenience." Criminals know the heavy duty gear will bring top dollar, often fencing them at pawn shops, online websites such as Craigslist or Let Go, or sometimes selling them in private sales.

Matt Winter is working to recover what's his. The backdoor at his business, MW Lawn and Landscape, shows signs of abuse. Police said it's from criminals who broke in on Tuesday morning around 3:30 a.m.

"They broke three crowbars trying to get this door open," Winter said Thursday.

Winter said those two men helped themselves to $60,000 worth of his company's gear: a Chevrolet truck, a trailer, four weed-eaters, seven blowers, four mowers and other high-end landscaping items, too.

Surveillance video shows the criminals stealing Winter's 2014 Chevy truck, a red Silverado with the MW Lawn and Landscaping logo, as well as that trailer, which has since been recovered. The pickup truck, however, is still out there.

"It just doesn't feel good knowing someone's out there in your company vehicle with my logos on it," Winter complained. "(The crooks are) representing us in the wrong way."

Winter said his 19-year old company, which employs more than 40 people, has been forced to reschedule some appointments with customers until the stolen stuff can be recovered. An Olathe Police Department detective was at the business Thursday afternoon, examining the recovered trailer, which was found abandoned in a Johnson County parking lot.

"It can happen to anybody any day," Winter told FOX4. "I just want to be sure we're all doing all we can to keep stuff safe."

Smaller lawn care firms are also running the risk of being hit by criminals. Jeff Thoeni, who operates Nature's Choice Lawncare, said he's been hit twice in the past week. His company is based in Blue Springs, but he does business all around the Kansas City metro.

"Within the last six days, we've actually been robbed for two blowers and a weed eater," Thoeni said. "That's a thousand dollars in equipment."

Thoeni said his crew was working at a storage facility in Liberty when a crook posed as a customer for that establishment but broke into Thoeni's truck instead. On Monday, Thoeni was mowing at a fast food restaurant in Independence when he was robbed again.

Thoeni, whose business is somewhat new, said he's invested $800 in chains and locks to keep his items secure in his truck. He said lawn care workers struggle to concentrate on keeping their trucks secure, at times, because yard work can be so loud.

"The goal is to build the business and build our clientele," Thoeni said. "It's kind of hard to do when you're spending all your money replacing stolen equipment."

On Thursday evening, members of Thoeni's staff contacted FOX4 to say some of his stolen items were recovered at a pawn shop in the metro. Winter, on the other hand, is still holding out hope for his firm's belongings to resurface.

"We have a better protocol now of making sure our gates are locked, and our trucks and building are locked," Winter said.

"For the guys who are getting stuff stolen, I highly recommend make your police reports. Look for cameras on the areas you're mowing. Video surveillance is always nice. Do everything in your power to relocate your equipment," Thoeni advised.

If you can help police determine who's stealing from local lawn care companies, or help these owners recover their stolen equipment, please call the Crimestoppers TIPS Hotline 816-474-TIPS.