Gadsden police recover more than 300 stolen items; felony charges against suspected fence

Joe Walker Pearl (Photo: Etowah County Sheriff's Office)

Police in Gadsden are trying to return hundreds of stolen items to their rightful owners.Captain Paul Cody said officers bust a large fencing operation this week.{} It took a long time to sort through and document a very wide range of stolen property."We've collected a lot of stuff," Cody said."Toilet paper.{} We have non-firearms related weapons, we have karaoke machines, musical instruments, car stereos, underwear."More than a dozen unopened packs of both Hanes and Fruit of the Loom boxers and briefs.{} Investigators said 75-year-old Joe Pearl sold these and other sealed items, such as toothbrushes and drills, at trade days.Police seized those and other items Monday at Pearl's house."Mr. Pearl is just the guy in the neighborhood that everybody knows they can go and sell their stolen property to," Cody said."Right now what we believe is that the items were in a trade, either through the sale of narcotics or through just a cash transaction outright."Officers also discovered a large quantity of prescription medication at Pearl's house.{} He has an outstanding warrant for his arrest for distribution of narcotics, and several prior arrests for the same charge.Investigators believe Pearl is in Georgia, and expect he will turn himself in sometime in the next few days.{} Rather than charge him with 200 or 300 misdemeanor counts for receiving stolen property, Cody said police will charge Pearl with one felony count of receiving stolen property in the first degree.Police said people shoplifted some of the items from stores, and took others during burglaries.{} Cody said the approach in this case is different from the traditional police investigation into the initial culprit in a break-in or burglary."We've changed tactics a little bit and focus on the fencing operation, where is the items going, in an effort to try to run these back to the original person who committed the crime, and to return the property to the owners."Police are trying to match these items to previous cases on file, but many things were not reported stolen.{} Investigators said if a person in the area is a recent victim of either a burglary or a car break-in, where the stolen item is unique or has a unique identifier, call the property crimes division at 256-549-4624Since there are many weed eaters, saws, drills, and similar items, Cody said it is important to have a specific description of the items that only the only the owner would know, in order to get them back.{} All unclaimed property will go to a government auction.
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