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4 accused in Camrose theft case involving millions in farming, construction equipment

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Four people have been charged in connection with a theft case totalling about $3.1 million in the Camrose area, police announced Tuesday.

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The charges, laid on May 15, signal the end of Operation Elephant, a three-year investigation into stolen equipment like tractors, loaders, trailers, and excavators, as well as vehicles like RVs, boats, and quads.

The four accused face a variety of charges, including possession of property obtained by crime, tampering with a vehicle identification number, and laundering proceeds of crime:

  • Gaye Turnbull, 70;
  • Jeffrey Roblin, 37;
  • Trevor Turnbull, 44; and
  • Kenneth Wipp, 53.

"The stolen equipment was acquired and repurposed for commercial and personal use, including for profit in the rental business, the meat business, and a Saskatchewan hunt farm," Insp. Angela Kemp told reporters on Tuesday.

"All accused were involved in these businesses, either as employees or as the owners."

She said Gaye Turnbull is the owner "in the majority of the companies."

Businesses criminally restrained

Operation Elephant was launched in the spring of 2021 after the auto crimes unit of ALERT, the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, received a tip about "the rebuilding of stolen vehicles within rural Alberta."

ALERT first told the public of the investigation in December the following year when it carried out 17 search warrants in the city of Camrose, Camrose County, Ponoka, Beaver County, and Cut Knife, Sask.

"The coordination between the accused is essentially going through rural and northern Alberta, identifying locations where there's potential equipment that was available to be stolen. From that, it was just organized within our accused," Kemp said.

"We don't know exactly their step-by-step process, but we're able to determine that it was organized and that the stolen property was being identified and tagged for it to be stolen."

On May 7 of this year, nine commercial properties and rural residences in Alberta and Saskatchewan were criminally restrained by the Alberta Crown Prosecutors' Office.

That means the companies continue to be operational, but cannot be sold until court proceedings have finished, according to Kemp.

Most victims were farmers, entrepreneurs

In total, more than 100 pieces of stolen property were found by police, nearly 90 of which were bigger items like machinery and vehicles.

Most of it has been returned to its rightful owners, ALERT said, which has been a difficult process given the identification numbers were removed or tampered with and police needed to work with both victims and their insurers.

"$3.1 million is a huge amount of capital. When we talk about the people who it affects when it's stolen, we're talking about farmers, we're talking about people who have companies and their livelihood is dependent on this equipment and this machinery," Kemp said.

“This investigation shows that not all organized crime involves guns and drugs. High value property crimes not only impact the victims of the theft, but all of Albertans through increased insurance rates,” Camrose police chief Dean LaGrange added in a statement.

The accused were released from custody and are scheduled to appear in court in Camrose on Wednesday.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Brandon Lynch 

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