Brian Stanley: Convict sees chance to score big

Sun-Times Media, LLC., The Hearld-News, heraldnews.suntimes.com
BYLINE: Brian Stanley
Link to Article

Will County, IL


Gary Irwin

Investigators say it was early October when Gary D. Irwin got the idea for the score of his life.

Irwin, 50, had been a suspect in several burglaries, including the Christian Youth Center on Route 52, but the most recent case against him hadn’t panned out and he held a court order to get his tools back from the Will County sheriff’s police.

Irwin went to the sheriff’s complex on the southeast corner of Laraway Road and Briggs Street and asked for his property to be returned.

“The proper procedure is for whoever it is from the public to wait in the front while the evidence is retrieved, but that wasn’t done in this case,” Sheriff Paul Kaupas admitted Wednesday.

Instead, Irwin was brought back through the fence to the gravel lot where impound cars were parked and a large metal shipping container resembling a semi-trailer held overflow from the main evidence vault.

He likely watched as a deputy unlocked a hockey puck-shaped lock and opened the metal door.

Inside were Irwin’s tools and myriad items, including a concrete saw and a compound bow and arrow set. There was also a stale bundle of marijuana and three kilograms of packaged heroin.

Those kilos, each with an estimated street value of $90,000, had been seized Feb. 21, 2011, by the Gang Suppression Unit who’d allegedly been tipped to intercept a semi truck heading north on
Interstate 55 just south of Shorewood.

“The drugs had been put in that location because they were scheduled to be burned,” Kaupas said.

The Will County state’s attorney’s office said tests had already confirmed the packages seized from the truck driven by Jose A. Zamago-Mena, of Sun Valley, Calif., were heroin.

Irwin didn’t know Zamago-Mena, but his criminal record shows a history with narcotics, but an even more extensive list of times he was caught breaking and entering.

Irwin already had two burglary convictions by the summer of 1995 when he was suspected of using a crowbar to break padlocks and force open shed doors at several Merrillville, Ind., churches in order to steal lawn equipment.

On the early morning of July 6, 1995, a neighbor spotted him taking lawn mowers from the Masonic Temple and read the license plate of his pickup after he sped away once he’d realized he’d been seen.

Police said an officer stopped him on Route 30 just before he’d gotten onto Interstate 65, cutting off several cars during the drive.

Irwin served prison time for the Indiana burglaries.

Then, in October, investigators say when Irwin got into the Laraway complex, he saw opportunity.

“After he became aware of where some evidence was being stored, he came up with a plan to burglarize the premises with two other individuals,” state police Capt. Michael Cooke said Tuesday.

Irwin allegedly waited a week before coming in through the back fence with Terry D. Jenkins, 43, and Joseph D. Crutchfield, 22, on the night of Oct. 12. Cooke said the suspects cut the lock and took the stolen narcotics and other items to a nearby car. Beside allegedly taking the lock with them to reduce the evidence left at the evidence locker, the intruders were not seen by patroling deputies or surveillance cameras.

“The state police conducted their criminal investigation and now that we have that information, I want to find out if security wasn’t tight enough or if someone became lax,” Kaupas said while acknowledging the incident has led to several changes in security procedures.

The break-in wasn’t discovered until two days later and was kept from the media for another week. The FBI originally was asked to come in as an outside agency, but the state police ended up taking the case.

Cooke said his detectives considered if narcotics missing from a police locker was the result of an inside job, but their investigation showed that wasn’t the case. Instead, he said “confidential sources” would eventually lead them to Irwin, Jenkins and Crutchfield.

But that wouldn’t be until months later. In the week after the burglary, Gary Irwin must have allegedly felt he’d pulled off the score of a lifetime.

He’d never get the chance to top it.

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