For years in Wilkinson County, the sheriff’s office called on Tracy Michael Ford’s wrecker service to tow cars.
A recent tip led to the Thursday arrest of the 41-year-old in an alleged million-dollar auto theft ring.
Once authorities identified one stolen vehicle and arrested Ford, they learned more stolen vehicles might be stored in Milledgeville and on his properties around McIntyre.
Ford initially was charged with several counts of theft by receiving stolen property, but there could be more charges pending the outcome of the probe, authorities said.
Baldwin County deputies spent seven hours Thursday night rounding up 13 vehicles that had been reported stolen and a slew of construction equipment, said Capt. Brad King of the Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office.
Ford has a Knight Circle address in Baldwin County and has two lots with a building on North Columbia Street.
Baldwin deputies served search warrants at Ford’s three properties in their county.
“We just started running VIN numbers and everything he had was stolen,” King said. “Our impound lot is slammed full.”
Sheriff Bill Massee pointed to a fairly new Penske International tractor without a trailer that is estimated to be worth $125,000.
The entire value of seized goods could near a half-million dollars in Baldwin County alone, Massee said.
“We’re surprised to have recovered as much as we did in Baldwin County, especially from someone who has literally been under the radar with us,” he said.
Although he stored vehicles on North Columbia Street, his main businesses were operated from Wilkinson County, Massee said.
Wilkinson County Sheriff Richard Chatman estimated he had uncovered at least $500,000 worth of vehicles and maybe closer to $1 million.
Law enforcement officers were still searching property Friday evening.
“It’s going to take some time to sort out and get in touch with insurance companies,” Chatman said.
The GBI is assisting in the investigation.
Chatman expects Ford had help stealing vehicles from all over the Atlanta area and north Georgia.
“It’s kind of hard to do this by yourself with this many vehicles,” Chatman said. “You would think he’d be in concert with someone.”
Nearly 20 vehicles had been seized from Ford’s home on E.H. Snow Road, property on Jackson Road and the Julian Robinson Bypass in Wilkinson County, Chatman said.
Ford seemed to have a penchant for F-series Ford trucks, as several were recovered in both counties.
Chatman’s officers also found two flatbed wreckers and two large freight wreckers Friday.
Three stolen wreckers were used in Ford’s McIntyre businesses, including Hookers Recovery and Ford’s Paint & Body & Towing & Recovery.
Chatman said he plans to question Ford again to try to determine whether he was selling off vehicles.
“We’re now just focusing on trying to recover as many vehicles as we can,” Chatman said.
The Baldwin County Sheriff’s Office called on “every other wrecker service” there to haul in vehicles Thursday, including three of Ford’s wreckers that were stolen.
“They were having a ball, too. We won’t be able to make payroll for all these wrecker bills,” King joked.
The captain got behind the wheel of one of the wreckers Friday morning to shift around stolen vehicles to free up some room.
Investigators, who had been out until midnight the night before, fanned out in the impound lot early Friday to document the vehicles that were reported stolen.
Deputies are contacting agencies from all over Georgia to notify them that the vehicles have been located.
They found highway construction materials, including orange barrels, dividers and new pylons separated by cardboard.
“He might have been working the interstate,” King said. “A vehicle sitting there and a wrecker backs up to it, nobody thinks twice about it.”
A sewer vacuum also was seized along with a Ford pickup out of Twiggs County that was loaded with trash.
As King walked the impound lot, he noted the slogan on the Hookers truck: “We’ll get you off the streets.”
“Yes, we did,” King said. “I like that.”