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Friday, January 25, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Police Close `Store' -- Fencing Operation Probe Leads To The Arrests Of Two

WHITE CENTER - Imagine a store too good to be true: open all hours, bargain-basement prices, and items galore, from TVs to diamonds to antique Norwegian Christmas plates.

Even a limited-edition bust by Western artist Charles Russell.

Alas, it was too good, police said: Everything in this store was stolen.

Yesterday morning, police hauled out an estimated $200,000 in stolen goods from a fencing operation in a White Center apartment, following a raid the night before.

Police say the 51-year-old suspect had been in business for 20 years and had a steady stream of burglars and professional shoplifters from South King County and Seattle exchanging loot for quick cash.

``He sold to people who were looking for a good deal,'' said Sgt. Frank Kinney of the King County police vice unit. ``If you wanted to go shopping somewhere, this was like a favorite store. It would have what you want.''

Kinney has no doubt, however, that the suspect's customers knew they were buying stolen property.

Police have been investigating the operation for six months.

It all started when detectives were trying to identify people involved in illegal gambling. Undercover officers got friendly with folks who frequented the cardrooms. Their sources led them to bookmakers, who in turn led them to the suspect, who, incidentally, moonlights as a bookmaker, Kinney said.

About 10 p.m. Wednesday, a search warrant was served on the residence. Police found an 8-by-4-foot locker outside the apartment filled with goods. More items were displayed throughout the residence, including a rubber raft, coin collections, boxes of cigarettes and a waterbed mattress. Police also recovered a fully automatic machine gun equipped with a silencer.

The suspect has virtually no criminal record, is well known in the Burien area and allegedly has been plying his trade for the past two decades, Kinney said. Why was he so tough to catch?

``You don't get to him unless he knows you,'' Kinney said. ``Fortunately, we were able to get close to him'' with the aid of undercover officers.

The suspect was arrested and booked into the King County Jail on suspicion of possessing stolen property and professional gambling, which is a felony. His partner, 62, was also arrested on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

During the raid, one burglar called to ask if he could drop off a stolen television. Police answering the phone told him to come on by, and he was arrested as well.

In the past few weeks, police have arrested nine Seattle-area residents on suspicion of burglary in connection with the fencing operation. A half-dozen others remain at large, although police say they have identified them.

Some of the suspects, who range in age from 20 to 48, used the money they received from the fence to buy drugs, Kinney said. Some are house burglars, while others, called ``boosters,'' are professional shoplifters, he said.

All business was conducted in cash. For instance, for a $350 TV, a burglar might get $100 in cash, and the fence would sell the set for about $150, Kinney said.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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