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Cops nab biker suspect in $600k theft

Alleged Grim Reapers MC gang member caught at Veterans Affairs facility in Salt Lake City 

A man wanted in connection with the Aug. 8 theft of more than $600,000 in Delta was caught by police at a Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs facility last week.

Chane Harris, who also goes by the nickname Sawdust, was caught after local detectives alerted several hospitals to be on the lookout for the suspect, said Lt. Rob Clark, a Millard County Sheriff ’s spokesman.

thumb Chane Harris

Chane Harris

Harris, 65, was booked into the Millard County Jail on Oct. 2.

Clark said Harris was caught after he sought medical treatment at a VA hospital.

“He had gone up to the VA, he checked himself in because he wanted to get some pain meds. Our investigators had put word to the different hospitals that if they have contact with this person to hold him. They have police up there, the military police up there usually…they called when he checked in…our guys went up there and picked him up,” Clark said.

Harris faces multiple charges, including a first-degree felony theft, two counts of second-degree felony obstruction of justice and third-degree felony vehicle burglary.

These charges were upgraded on Monday by the county attorney’s office to reflect a “gang enhancement,” according to court records. The enhancement stems from Harris’ alleged involvement with a Hell’s Angels affiliated motorcycle club.

The charges stem from an alleged theft that took place at Trav’z Tire & Repair, 47 N 400 W in Delta, in which the shop’s owner, Travis Zufelt, also faces criminal charges.

The caper unfolded after a man, identified as BG in court records, and his fiancé moved to the area earlier this year from California. The couple brought with them cash proceeds from the sale of real estate and other funds that combined totaled more than $600,000. Curiously, the couple chose to stash the cash in a spare tire in the back of their vehicle.

Zufelt at some point allegedly befriended BG, who had sought the tire shop’s assistance in early July—the man asked Zufelt to break the bead on his spare tire so he could retrieve some cash, according to police affidavits.

Sheriff ’s investigators allege in court records that in the following month BG asked Zufelt to perform some mechanical work on his vehicle. That’s when Zufelt was allegedly able to get the man away from the shop long enough to allow the spare tire to mysteriously disappear.

BG called police when he returned home from the shop later that day and discovered the spare tire containing his nest egg missing.

Zufelt was questioned and multiple search warrants later issued, including for records involving numerous phone numbers.

These telephone records combined with surveillance video and other evidence allegedly linked Harris to the caper— an affidavit just made public Monday contains this line: “SMS messaging records and call records have been obtained from AT&T that show a lengthy and frequent communication history between Travis and Chane.” A separate court record fi led by the county attorney’s office reports “30 calls and over 100 text messages between Harris and Zufelt between the date Zufelt opened the tire for BG and the date of the alleged theft of BG’s money.” Included in these are multiple phone calls and text messages on the day of the theft and for multiple days afterward.

Zufelt, according to one police affidavit, told investigators he believes he is being set up by someone. He was arrested on Sept. 2, while Harris fl ed the area—but not before burying $170,000 in suspected loot and leaving a note for his landlord saying he was leaving town, court records released Monday show.

Sheriff Richard Jacobson confirmed to the Chronicle Progress last month that indeed some of the stolen money—he declined to say how much then—had been recovered. He also confirmed reports of police impounding a Harley Davidson motorcycle Harris allegedly purchased for a neighbor.

In an intriguing twist to the case, investigators last month began looking into whether the alleged theft was part of a wider plot orchestrated by members of an outlaw biker gang.

A few details about this avenue of inquiry were revealed in a Sept. 10 search warrant affidavit made public on Sept. 30.

A sheriff ’s investigator wrote that a witness told police that Harris is the president of a chapter of the Grim Reapers motorcycle club—the witness identified himself as a member as well and reportedly named other members. This witness also said Harris and the other members were recruiting Zufelt to join the club. Zufelt is said to have confirmed Harris’ gang affiliation to police, according to records released Monday.

The Grim Reapers were founded in 1965 in Kentucky. The outlaw biker club was originally composed of Vietnam veterans. Members notably only ride Harleys.

As recently as February this year, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Indiana, Josh Minkler, called the motorcycle club a criminal organization— this after 17 people were indicted by federal authorities for allegedly participating in a major drug ring with ties to the motorcycle club, according to multiple news reports. Authorities said after the indictments earlier this year, federal law enforcement was contemplating seizing the club’s Evansville, Ind., headquarters building, according to the Evansville Courier & Press newspaper.

Asked about this biker gang twist in the local theft case, Clark said he didn’t know what if any Harris’ affiliation to the biker club was.

“I don’t know much about that right now. So I can’t really comment on that,” he said.

Harris has told locals in Delta he served in Vietnam. Clark says that’s not entirely true.

“He claimed to be a Vietnam vet, but he’s not. He was in Vietnam for something else, doing some civil engineer kind of thing…not what he was telling people,” Clark said.

Harris was expected to see a local judge on Monday, where the county attorney was set to argue against releasing the man. Harris’ original arrest warrant provided for release in lieu of $100,000 bond. However, with the gang enhancement to his charges and evidence of membership in the Grim Reapers, the county attorney sought continued detention.

Zufelt was released after his arrest—his bail was initially set at $600,000—on $100,000 bond, a GPS monitor attached to his person while he awaits a future court date.

County Attorney Patrick Finlinson did not wish to comment when reached Monday.

John Easton, a criminal defense attorney with Provo law fi rm Allan & Easton, is set to represent Harris, according to court records. Easton did not return a phone call seeking comment Monday.