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Police: Tip leads to 2 dozen stolen firearms in storage locker

Tucson police, investigating what they labeled a Tucson criminal syndicate, got a tip Tuesday that led them to two dozen stolen guns.

Among the stolen weapons seized was a .30-caliber Browning light machine gun, a belt-fed weapon used by the military in past decades.

Police also found a car in the rented storage room on the Southeast Side, as well as jewelry, power tools and bullet-resistant military vests, which Tuesday afternoon could be seen lying outside the storage locker.

Thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized in the search, said Sgt. Fabian Pacheco, a police spokesman.

Detective Sgt. David Azuelo said Tuesday that 24 guns, including many assault-type rifles and some antique firearms were found in the storage locker.

The light machine gun was stolen in a residential burglary from a man who had paid a federal transfer tax when he bought the weapon and had owned it legally, Azuelo said.

Pacheco estimated the machine gun’s value at $20,000 to $30,000. All the weapons and other property had an estimated value of more than $100,000, Azuelo said.

Four arrests were made earlier in the case, said Azuelo. No more are expected.

Those arrested are:

Ralph T. Jessup, 56, on charges of aggravated robbery, armed robbery, aggravated assault, theft of a means of transportation and kidnapping; Craig R. Erhorn, 23, arrested on charges of aggravated robbery, armed robbery, kidnapping and aggravated assault; Robert B. Davis, 33, on charges of armed robbery, aggravated assault, forgery, theft, identity theft, fraudulent schemes and trafficking in stolen property; and Katie E. Fought, 31, on charges of armed robbery and aggravated assault.

At initial appearances, Jessup was ordered held in the Pima County Jail in lieu of $75,000 cash only bail, Erhorn was ordered held without bail and Davis was ordered held on $25,000 bail on a theft charge and without bail on the other charges he faces. Fought was ordered held in lieu of $50,000 bail, a jail records clerk said.

In an earlier incident, Jessup was arrested in October, as was Erhorn, who barricaded himself in an apartment in the 9200 block of East Tanque Verde Road, starting a standoff with SWAT officers, police said earlier this week.

A search of Erhorn’s home turned up suspected stolen property, weapons, a homemade pipe bomb and smoke grenades, police said.

Erhorn was released from jail after that arrest; the reason for his release was not given earlier this week.

Investigation of the alleged syndicate began in October and involved county sheriff’s detectives because some of the suspected crimes occurred in the unincorporated county.

Azuelo said detectives will store the property in a police evidence facility while they dust for fingerprints and try to find owners of the property.

At least one property owner already had been found by Tuesday.

Brent Thompson, a 39-year-old machinist with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, came home March 5 to find his Southeast Side home ransacked.

Using a piece of metal, the thieves “had cut through the kitchen wall,” Thompson said.

The thieves made off with a rifle, a shotgun, computer equipment, a camera, jewelry and his 9-year-old daughter’s game system, Thompson said.

“I’m still missing a bunch of stuff,” Thompson said Tuesday, but he added he was happy to have gotten back the property found in the rented locker.

Azuelo said someone not thought to be part of the alleged syndicate rented the locker, but “Erhorn had control over it.”

Azuelo declined to identity the unit’s renter.

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