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Police arrest two men after pigpens stolen

Instead of the familiar chant, "Who let the dogs out?" a Ballico farmer had to be wondering who stole his pigpens.

Nobody squealed, but patrol deputies ultimately provided the sizzle that may have solved the porcine case.

Short answer: It's out of the frying pan and into the fire for two men arrested in connection with the theft of pigpens from a 14-acre turkey ranch at Turlock and Lee roads in the Ballico area.

The ranch once raised pigs. They needed much stronger pens than the birds. And those pens -- made of metal -- became a magnet because the price of scrap metal has soared.

David Floth, 56, of Merced, and Manuel Hernandez, 41, of Planada, were arrested by Merced County Sheriff's Department deputies Pat Dayton and Tarlochao Sohal on charges of grand theft, burglary and vandalism charges. Floth and Hernandez remained in Merced County Jail on Thursday in lieu of $75,000 bail each.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's department spokesman, said the men were arrested about 2 p.m. Wednesday. The deputies were checking outbuildings on the ranch when they saw a pickup truck with the two men in it leaving a barn, pulling a trailer full of dismantled pigpens. The pens were to be sold for scrap metal.

MacKenzie said several thefts have been reported over the past couple weeks.

Investigation is ongoing as to whether or not this was Floth and Hernandez' first trip or if they're linked to previous thefts.

Dayton said that well over $30,000 worth of theft and damage had been done earlier to the property. Among the missing materials were some 300 feet of aluminum roofing for the turkey pens, hundreds of feet of copper wire, pieces of metal from various parts of the ranch -- all allegedly to be sold as scrap metal for cash.

Looks as if money from a porkbarrel isn't restricted to Washington, D.C.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or dyawger@mercedsun-star.com.

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