Benson PD uncovers burglary ring

Neighbors Kimberly Vanderholm (left) and Annette Richards stand in front of a car hauler owned by Richards and her husband that was nearly stolen on Feb. 26 by a member of a burglary ring operating out of Tucson. Vanderholm witnessed the thief starting to hitch the toy hauler up to a U-Haul truck he was driving, and alerted Richards. 

BENSON — Investigators with the Benson Police Department have made arrests in an ongoing investigation that involves the recovery of property stolen in Benson and Tucson.

On Feb. 26, Benson area resident Annette Richards was contacted by a neighbor who had witnessed a U-Haul truck entering Richards’s property off Pomerene Road, about a half mile from I-10. That call foiled an attempt to steal a toy hauler owned by Richards and her husband, and resulted in response from Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies and a massive investigation by the Benson Police Department.

“The driver was starting to hitch our toy hauler up to the U-Haul when my husband and I arrived after our neighbor (Kimberly Vanderholm) contacted us,” Annette Richards said. “As soon as the driver saw us, he fled from the property with my husband following him in our pickup truck while I was on the phone with 911.”

The suspect driver, who has been identified by Benson Police as James Dunivent, got on I-10 in an effort to flee from the Richards, then took exit 304 where he pulled into the parking lot of Rigo’s restaurant on Ocotillo Road. He was subsequently questioned and released by law enforcement officers.

However, on March 9, Benson Police Detectives arrested Dunivent in Tucson when he attempted to flee during an investigation.

“I put a post on Facebook about our incident right after it happened, and heard from someone else who had a work trailer stolen with a bunch of tools in it. So I posted this information on Facebook as a warning to people in the area to watch for thieves.,” Annette Richards said.

While Cochise County Sheriff’s deputies were the first on scene at Rigo’s restaurant, Richards said the Benson Police took the investigation over, and did what she describes as “an amazing job of conducting an investigation and recovering thousands of dollars worth of stolen property in what appears to be a large-scale burglary ring.”

Richards also praised Vanderholm for alerting her when she saw the suspicious activity on her property.

“She’s our neighborhood watchdog,” Richards said. “We are in the process of building a home on the property, so we live up the street in my mother’s place. Had she not contacted us, we never would have caught the thief in the act.”

Benson Police ReportIn his report, Benson Police Detective Brian Williams confirms two calls related to stolen vehicles in the Benson area around the date that Richards placed her 911 call. Along with the alleged attempted burglary on the Richards property, a 2005 Chevrolet pickup and 2019 ATV trailer were reported stolen on Feb. 27.

“During that same timeframe a construction box trailer containing numerous construction-related tools was stolen in the Benson area on Feb. 27,” Williams said in his report.

Investigators conducted interviews with employees of businesses neighboring Rigo’s restaurant for additional information and also obtained video surveillance footage from several businesses and home surveillance camera systems, the report stated.

Through those investigations, police confirmed that a secondary vehicle was involved in the burglaries, which led them to a Motel 6 in Benson on Feb. 28 where search warrants were issued and evidence collected.

Carlos Hernandez, a convicted felon from California who now lives in Tucson, was arrested and charged with the truck and trailer theft, as well as suspected drugs for sale and possession of a firearm.

“Information that we were able to derive from the arrest of Mr. Hernandez led us to a storage facility in Tucson, and it gave us names of additional suspects,” said Benson Police Chief Paul Moncada.

“Searches were conducted on Feb. 29 at several rental units in Tucson where stolen firearms and other property was recovered, including personal identification and mail from fraud victims out of Pima County,” Moncada said.

As of the end of March, Benson Police had recovered a stolen 2005 Chevrolet pickup, a 2019 ATV trailer, a 2004 construction trailer with a large collection of tools inside the trailer, two saddles and western wear that were inside a camper trailer that was stolen in January, and approximately six stolen firearms. The stolen property came from the City of Tucson and Pima County jurisdictions, Moncada said.

“We actually recovered property stolen from Tucson construction companies that hadn’t been reported to Tucson or Pima County authorities,” added Moncada, who noted that the investigation is ongoing.

In his report, Williams said that several federal agencies have been contacted for additional investigations involving the suspects, as a result of evidence collected during the investigations that occurred outside Benson Police Department jurisdiction.

“The Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Office have been made aware of our investigation and have been fully briefed,” Williams said.