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Two men arrested in alleged metal thefts

Merced police said two men suspected of stealing about $55,000 in metal pipes and fittings are in custody, following a two month investigation by detectives.

Merced residents Antonio Fernando Avila, 39, and Robert Allen Ortega, 46, were arrested Wednesday after Merced Police detectives Dave Alcaraz and Paul Johnson observed the pair at a business on the 200 block of South Highway 59. The business’ owner had begun reporting the thefts in June.

Police said they spotted Avila pulling an empty trailer onto Ortega’s property, which is located nearby the business. On Wednesday around 8:30 a.m., police reported seeing Avila driving an SUV and trailer away from Ortega’s property. Higdon said the the trailer was packed with metal products.

Avila’s car was pulled over by Merced Police officers and he was arrested shortly thereafter. Higdon said the metal in the trailer alone was determined to be worth more than $10,000. The business owner was also able to identify the missing pipes and fittings as the ones that were taken from his business.

Detectives Alcaraz and Johnson also contacted Ortega at his residence, observing a large pipe fitting in his back yard. He admitted to his participation in the thefts, Higdon said, and was taken to Merced Police Department with Avila.

Higdon said Ortega gave a full statement about the thefts, saying that Avila was involved. Avila, however, did not give a statement to detectives.

The suspects were selling the pipes and fittings to a local scrap dealer, who paid the suspects less than $1,500 for the items, Higdon said.

Avila and Ortega were booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of felony grand theft and possession of stolen property.

Avila is being held in lieu of $30,000, while Ortega is being held in lieu of $50,000.