Touring bands in Texas can rest easier following the arrest of 130 people in Houston this week in a massive theft bust which involved an organization trading heavily in the sale of musicians’ instruments.
Termed “Operation Wheels and Deals”, the arrests were carried out by a joint force of the Houston Police Department, nearby Baytown and Pasadena Police Departments, and Homeland Security agents. The coalition sewed up months of investigation centering on a criminal operation which used stolen instruments as one of its main sources of income.
In the words of HPD Lieutenant Mike Osina, “I have never seen an operation that was this vast.”
The investigation began in April 2015 after an undercover operation of stolen items in the Port of Houston coincided with a separate investigation by Pasadena police.
The thefts were not limited to instruments and included, according to Osina, “ ...anything and everything they could put their hands on. They stole four wheelers, quad runners, lawn equipment, motorcycle equipment.”
The spate of crimes became notorious in the music community after a number of publicized thefts involving young fiddle virtuoso Ruby Jane, folk group Black Lillies, and most famously Zane Williams, who had a 100-year old fiddle taken after his tour van and trailer were stolen.
The issue of stolen gear has been a constant source of fear for musicians of Houston as outlined by an article in the Houston Press from 2013. When local Koree Smith of Strange Weapons was asked about his stolen property, “I bought this guitar when I was 16 instead of buying my first crappy car.”
The extent of the criminal ring and the volume of instruments stolen is still not entirely clear, but we will keep this article updated as more information is publicized.