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January 25, 2013

Pair faces felony wrath in church thefts

Police say couple stole power tools from Warren churches, sold them to buy heroin

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — One of the Ten Commandments tells us, “Thou Shalt Not Steal.”

But Warren police said that didn’t stop a pair of alleged thieves who took power tools from at least nine local churches and sold them between August and November last year to feed a drug habit.

Anthony Morgan and Sara Diane Newton, both 27 and from Warren, were arraigned in the 37th District Court in November on 13 counts of breaking and entering and a felony racketeering charge that could put them in jail for 20 years.

Warren Police Detective Cpl. Kevin Borycz said Morgan and Newton were identified as suspects and put under police surveillance in November, after a break-in at Warren’s St. Sylvester Parish on 12 Mile Road west of Hoover.

“That was a break in the case,” Borycz said last week. “They actually saw him doing it and got a plate.”

Linda Reiterman, the office manager at the church, said a maintenance employee noted the license plate of a suspicious minivan on church property at about 7 a.m. Nov. 5. She said two snow blowers and a power washer were later found to be missing, and that the doors on the church’s northwest side were kicked in.

Borycz said the license plate of the suspect vehicle was registered to Newton’s 1997 Dodge Caravan. The minivan with a cracked windshield was captured on security video during another theft last fall. Police later found the same Caravan in a photo on Newton’s Facebook page, where she actually posted about fixing the broken glass.

Police were able to link Morgan to the minivan through the Courts and Law Enforcement Management Information System, CLEMIS, which listed him as an associate of Newton who was driving her vehicle when he was pulled over by Eastpointe police in September and arrested for an outstanding traffic warrant.

Borycz said Morgan did 16 days in the Macomb County Jail after that arrest. That’s when the spree of break-ins that began in August came to a halt.

By that time, the list of churches and one school allegedly victimized in the spate of thievery included the Praise Worship Center, hit on Aug. 27; St. Martin de Porres, on Aug. 28; the St. Mary Assyrian Church, burglarized on Aug. 26 and Aug. 31; Life Application Ministries, on Sept. 2; the Celtic Cross Presbyterian Church and the Dove of Hope Christian Fellowship, both on Sept. 7; Pinewood Elementary, on Sept. 9; and the Gideon Baptist Church, on Sept. 17.

The break-ins continued in November. Thefts at St. Sylvester and the Hmong Alliance Church on Gloede were reported on Nov. 5. There was also a burglary at the Michigan Business and Professional Association on Hoover, and the garage of a home in the 31500 block of Nelson — police believe Morgan knew the owner — was targeted.

Borycz said the method of operation consistent in the thefts involved garages or sheds where landscaping equipment and other power tools were stored.

In one caper, Morgan allegedly took a riding lawnmower from the Praise Worship Center and drove it down the nearby service drive before he stashed it in the bushes while he stole a pull-behind trailer to haul it away.  

Armed with a warrant obtained after Morgan and Newton were identified as suspects, Warren detectives located the Dodge Caravan at an Eastpointe motel. They later followed the vehicle and arrested Morgan and Newton breaking into a home on Jeannie Court Nov. 9.

“Under Miranda, they confessed to every one of them (the break-ins), and in detail,” Borycz said. “All the stuff they either pawned, or the majority of the stuff they sold to crack dealers in Detroit.”

Chief Judge John Chmura of the 37th District Court set a $50,000 cash or surety bond for Morgan and a $50,000 personal bond for Newton at their arraignments.  

On Jan. 17, Morgan waived his right to a preliminary examination and will now stand trial in Macomb County Circuit Court. A preliminary exam for Newton was adjourned until Jan. 31. 

Attorney Malita Barrett, representing Morgan according to court records, had not returned a phone call seeking comment at press time. Attorney Robert Zaranek, representing Newton in the case and another in Macomb County, said only that he was reviewing the evidence ahead of the rescheduled hearing.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.