Police think they've found mother lode of stolen goods


Published: Thursday, January 5, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 4, 2006 at 10:27 p.m.
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Harris

Sun file photo
Gainesville Police Officer Sean MacMaster checks serial numbers Wednesday on bikes at the home of Oscar Sam Harris, 1722 NW 5th Ave. Police searched the home and found items believed taken in a series of burglaries.
Except for a narrow path, barely a section of grass was visible Wednesday in the back yard of one Gainesville home where police believe the resident had been storing thousands of dollars in stolen goods.
Gainesville Police have charged Oscar Sam Harris, 48, with burglary and grand theft, court records show. A warrant sets a $200,000 bond.
But Harris could be tied to other burglaries that occurred in December in the College Park area north of University Avenue as well as other unsolved cases dating back years, Detective Bill Quirk said.
"We're still trying to link specific items of property to specific incidents where the property was stolen," the detective said. However, he said, officers have a "reasonable belief" that many of the appliances, electronic equipment and hundreds of bicycles crammed on the property are stolen.
A neighbor, suspicious about a silver van parked in front of another resident's home Sunday evening, led police to Harris' single-story house. She followed the van and reported it parked at Harris' home.
After questioning Harris and watching the home Tuesday, police eventually obtained a search warrant and found rows and rows of bicycles, more than 300, neatly stacked behind the house at 1722 NW 5th Ave.
Refrigerators, washers and dryers were outside. Three canoes rested near the back of the yard. Inside the home was electronic equipment, televisions, and furniture and stacks of boxes and other items in the garage, police said.
Descriptions of stolen merchandise and serial numbers have linked some of the items to burglaries. Police expect it will take as long as the remainder of the week to catalog everything in the house, Quirk said.
Officers set up a makeshift office, complete with a table, chair and computer, in a church parking lot across the street from the home Wednesday. Burglary victims contacted by police started coming to the location to reclaim merchandise.
One was a 22-year-old University of Florida senior.
The student, who didn't want his name used, said he and others live at a nearby house. When the four returned home Sunday, they discovered their home had been hit by a burglar.
It was stripped of belongings, the student said, except for furniture.
"He took the faucets off the shower heads," as well as electronics including a large television, he said.
Police took the student into Harris' home to identify belongings, where he found the television and other items.
Quirk said it's not uncommon for police to see an increase in burglaries as college students head out of town for the holidays.
"That's typical because of the students being gone, and the bad guys know that," he said.
But, like the case of the 22-year-old's home, police had recently been called to homes that Quirk said had been "stripped clean."
Describing the burgled homes, Officer Jaime Kurnick said, "The homes were very much stripped where the victims almost felt like they almost moved out without ever moving out."
Quirk said residents listed pages of missing belongings including weights, printers, dive gear, washing machines, a lawn mower and generators.
In some cases, police found evidence a trailer had been used to haul away the stolen goods.
Officers spoke to Harris after the report from the neighbor and again Tuesday. Both times he denied he had done anything wrong, Quirk said.
Harris told Quirk he was unemployed and on disability but earned extra money by "Dumpster diving."
"He finds appliances, all kinds of stuff, refurbishes it and then sells it at the flea markets," the detective said Harris told him.
Quirk said when police came to Harris' house, he seemed "shaky." He was hospitalized after telling officers he was having a stress attack and had taken too much of his prescribed medicine.
Police spokesman Sgt. Keith Kameg said, "When he gets out of the hospital, clearly he is going to have to address some major issues of where the property came from."
Two neighbors said they were "shocked" that Harris might be involved in anything illegal. Neither man wanted to give their names but they said Harris had kept the bicycles in his yard for years. He would work on them and sell them.
"He never hid nothing," one said. Quirk said others in the area, however, told police they were suspicious about the house and that Harris would always be unloading belongings "all hours of the day and night."
Harris was a suspect in a 2004 Gainesville theft case, according to police.
He also was accused of stealing two bicycles on the UF campus last year, but the case was dropped, according to court records.
University Police are investigating whether any of the items found in the house match merchandise stolen on campus, city police also said.
Lise Fisher can be reached at (352) 374-5092 or fisherl@ gvillesun.com.

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