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Police find stolen tarps, mowers, more

Merced County Sheriff's Department detectives recovered about $25,000 worth of stolen property Thursday afternoon after serving a search warrant at a Union Avenue home in central Merced. Detectives arrested the former employee of a gardening service on charges of receiving stolen property and embezzlement Thursday night.

Sgt. Jason Goins, supervisor of the department's Major Crimes Unit, said Richard Berdak, 51, was apprehended about 8:25 p.m. in the 1000 block of Poppy Hills Drive in Atwater. He is due to be booked into Merced County Jail with bail set at $50,000. He was sought in connection with the thefts of gardening equipment belonging to Yard Masters Inc. of Merced.

Juan Pelayo, Yard Masters president, said it feels good to recover property stolen over a seven- or eight-month period while Berdak worked for the company.

"I feel very victimized and it's a pretty ugly feeling," Pelayo said. "It's a good feeling to recover what we have. We put a lot of trust on a person and I'm still hoping to find more blowers and mowers."

Goins said the crime was reported April 4 and assigned Wednesday to Detective Chuck Hale who obtained the search warrant for the Union Avenue home. After the loot was photographed by detectives, Yard Masters employees were putting recovered items into trailers.

Pelayo said thefts started out small but became very visible of late. Berdak was hired late last summer and fired April 4. The company employed about 35 people in yard maintenance crews at the time.

"I'm surprised the stuff is still here," Pelayo said. "There are a lot of electric power tools and small hand tools that haven't been located yet."

Goins said serial numbers were removed from several stolen mowers. Stolen items included lawn mowers, ladders, weed eaters, wheelbarrows, gas cans and tarps.

Discovery of the gardening items was one of the bigger stolen property recoveries Goins said he has witnessed recently. He said Berdak told his employers many of the items were unusable or inoperable and he threw them away.

Goins said officers are still completing an inventory of the stolen items. He was unsure if Berdak intended to start his own business or sell the stolen items.

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

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