Visalia police detective Jared Hughes received a letter of commendation from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for his role in solving the burglary of a post office, one of several break-ins connected to a burglary crew active in two states.
Detective Jerry Hunzinger at the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department also received a letter of commendation praising his professionalism.
Hughes, 34, a married father of three girls who grew up in Raisin City and went to the police academy at Fresno City College, served as a patrol officer for four years and has been assigned to property crimes for 4 1/2 years.
The recognition by the Postal Inspection Service is nice, but “it wasn’t just me,” Hughes said. “It was my entire unit and other agencies. It was a group effort.”
On Aug. 14, 2013, an Applebee’s in Visalia was broken into. The burglar tried to use a cable attached to a truck to yank the safe out but failed. He fled when the burglar alarm went off.
The surveillance tape showed a gray Nissan Titan. The next day, the California Highway Patrol and the Visalia police car theft team spotted the truck, pulled it over and called Hughes, who arrested driver Michael Bradsteen, 33, of Coalinga.
Bradsteen bailed out of jail.
On Oct. 7, 2013, Sally’s Beauty Supply in Visalia was broken into and the safe pried open. A high school student took a cellphone video of a vehicle leaving the scene. It looked like a rental car, so Hughes tracked it down to Enterprise car rental and learned that Bradsteen had rented it.
Three days later, Hughes and other detectives went to Coalinga and waited outside Bradsteen’s house. When he showed up, they pulled him over, but he sped off on a dirt road, dumped the car and ran away. Coalinga police quickly nabbed him.
The next day, a postal inspector showed up at Hughes’ office.
On Oct. 9, 2013, the post office in the Tulare County mountain community of Camp Nelson had been broken into at night. The burglar used a pry bar to break open an ATM to steal cash and also swiped money orders from the post office.
The inspector showed surveillance video to Hughes, and he recognized the burglar’s baggy clothing, headlamp and face mask – he had found them in the back of Bradsteen’s car and now had them in the evidence locker.
But Bradstreen soon bailed out of jail again.
On Oct. 25, 2013, the Foster’s Freeze in Tulare was broken into, and Tulare police arrested Bradsteen trying to remove the safe.
He bailed out yet again.
Even when he was in custody, commercial burglaries kept happening. Visalia police ended up arresting 10 others who were friends with Bradsteen.
“They were a traveling burglary crew,” Hughes said.
At least 27 burglaries are believed to be connected to them, including five KOA campgrounds in Washington state.
Police Chief Jason Salazar said it’s common to find burglaries done by groups.
“When you identify one, you sometimes get several suspects,” he said.
The motive was money for gambling and drugs, Hughes said.
In Madera County, the Sheriff’s Department chased Bradsteen, who dumped his car but got away on foot. Inside the car, they found a ceremonial jackpot check from Tachi Palace.
Hughes went to the Tachi and found on the wall a photo of Bradsteen holding his check.
On the theory that Bradsteen committed burglaries elsewhere, Hughes wrote a bulletin for distribution to law enforcement agencies on the West Coast, describing crimes allegedly committed by Bradsteen.
He got replies from several departments, including Santa Barbara County and Morro Bay police, which sent him a news article listing a partial license plate number related to a business break-in.
Hughes located the car at an auto body shop in Visalia.
By then, the Tulare County District attorney had a warrant for Bradsteen’s arrest; he was nabbed in Madera County.
In March, he pleaded no contest to several burglaries in Tulare County and was sentenced to five years in prison. He’s now in the San Luis Obispo County jail awaiting prosecution. Fresno and Madera counties are next.