A Carrabelle man was among three men arrested last week in connection with a ring of thieves who stole heavy equipment.



According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, tn the early morning hours of Oct. 7, Carrabelle Police Officer Gary Hunnings and Franklin County Sheriff’s Deputy Lt. Garrett Creamer discovered what appeared to be evidence that a tractor had been stolen. While investigating deputies discovered a large Kubota tractor hidden in a wooded area.



After deputies confirmed the tractor was stolen, surveillance was established in the area and a short time later deputies observed Brandon W. Atkinson and Joshua T. Martin return and load the tractor onto a trailer and depart.



A traffic stop was conducted and further investigation was conducted, which uncovered several thefts of heavy equipment from Franklin County as well as Wakulla, Gadsden, and Bay counties. As a result of this investigation deputies have recovered more than $127,000 in stolen heavy equipment.



Atkinson, 36, Carrabelle, and Martin, 27, Crawfordville, an officer at Wakulla Corrections Institution, were arrested and each charged with 14 felonies, including 12 counts of grand theft over $300, grand theft over $20,000 and burglary or attempted burglary of a structure



Ralph “Rusty” Pigott, 26, Crawfordville, was arrested and charged with tampering with physical evidence. Martin is on leave with pay from his job at the correctional institution.



Sheriff Mike Mock said the ring had been operating for some time, perhaps nine months to a year. Additional charges are pending as the investigation continues throughout the four counties.



It's not clear how many tractors or equipment was stolen by the ring. If you think you may have been a victim call the Franklin County Sheriff's Office at 670-8500. – By DAVID ADLERSTEIN