Accused of raiding people’s storage units and stealing their Christmas decorations, a Worland man and his wife could both face prison time.
Raul Garay Jr., 47, is charged in Washakie County District Court with one count of felony theft and another of burglary, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison and $10,000 in fines. The case of his wife, 28-year-old Briana Garay, ascended Thursday to the felony-level district court, with one count of felony theft.
Raul Garay pleaded not guilty Nov. 13 in Washakie County District Court and will advance to trial unless he changes his plea. His case ascended to the felony-level court Oct. 18.
The investigation started Sept. 8 when renters at a storage unit facility on the highway near Worland reported to police that someone had cut the locks on their storage units. Some renters reported items missing, according to evidentiary documents filed in the case.
One man reported 20 black-and-yellow 27-gallon totes missing, plus a Christmas tree, a camp stove, fishing tackle, 2,000 baseball cards and a tote full of notebooks.
‘And I Don’t Smoke’
A woman days later reported as missing washer and dryer machines, a king-sized bed frame “that matches my dresser,” a Craftsman table with a saw, a router table with a saw, horse care supplies, a ladder and other items.
"Also, whoever it was smokes, there's fresh cigarette ashes and I don't smoke,” she wrote in an email to law enforcement.
Also Sept. 8, Worland Police Department Officer Kent Lombard drove past the storage facility and noted a grey Dodge car he recognized as belonging to Raul Garay, according to the case evidentiary affidavit.
The officer reported he saw both Briana and Raul Garay at the storage units. Raul was inside an open unit holding a plank that looked like a painting or a piece of plywood, the affidavit relates.
Lombard called up a deputy and told him what he’d seen.
The facility owner told agents the Garays don’t have a space rented at that facility.
The man who reported his Christmas tree missing said he keeps a large piece of plywood in his unit to place across the inside of the door to curb the dust buildup.
Later, a sheriff’s sergeant noticed zigzag shoe tread impressions in the dirt leading into the storage units and took photos of the footprints. He also noticed a fingerprint in one of the units, which he photographed and sent to the state crime lab, says the affidavit.
Washakie County Sheriff’s Deputy Jonathan West and Sgt. Mike Oberth, and Worland Police Department Officer Jason Ysebeart, executed a search and seizure warrant for Garay’s home Oct. 7.
The affidavit says the pair live about a quarter-mile north of the storage unit facility on Highway 20 North.
Raul and Briana Garay were there, along with their son.
Sgt. Mike Oberth discovered a pair of black Nike sneakers with “an unusual tread pattern” that appeared to match the tread pattern he’d photographed in the dust one month earlier, says the affidavit.
The home was stuffed.
Agents saw “several black totes with yellow lids,” full plastic bags and items in nearly every room. The child’s bedroom and basement were “completely filled” with stuff, bins and things thrown haphazardly into bags, the affidavit says.
The agents questioned Raul about what he was doing at the storage units the night Lombard reportedly spotted him there.
He was there because “some guy had reported he was giving away free stuff,” the affidavit relates. Raul added that there was a Facebook post advertising free stuff, “but he was unable to bring up the post on his phone.”
The man with the missing Christmas tree later confirmed with police that he never gave Raul Garay permission to take his stuff, says the affidavit.
Oberth arrested Raul Garay and took him to the Washakie County Detention Center.
West spoke with Briana Garay about “the enormous amount of full plastic bags, storage totes and other property stacked throughout the house,” the document says.
She said for the past few weeks, Raul was constantly bringing stuff home, and when she’d ask about it he’d retort it was none of her business. She said she was frustrated because her house was getting filled up and she didn’t want to live like that, the affidavit says.
She pointed out a few things that didn’t belong to them that had mysteriously shown up, and she also pointed out a few things that were reportedly her own.
Police searched her car, then let her and a child leave the scene as they continued investigating.
Prosecutors charged Briana Raul about three weeks later with felony theft.
Mine, Not Mine
The agents rounded up the property that matched the descriptions of stolen items and took them to the law enforcement center in Worland. They called in the man with the missing Christmas tree to see if he could identify the property.
A red Rubbermaid Roughneck garbage can full of Christmas decorations was his, the man said.
A cardboard box with an “extensive baseball card collection” was his.
Also his were a black trunk containing electrical equipment and cables, a cardboard box with a camping grill, fishing gear and a jacket, a grey Sterilite tote (though the stuff in it wasn’t his), a black tote with a yellow lid full of decorations (the decorations weren’t his), seven empty black totes and 10 yellow lids.
Police documented everything and gave the man his stuff back, then continued to document other items believed stolen.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.