SARGENT COUNTY, N.D. (Valley News Live)- "I know for a fact, I'm not going to take it anymore," says Richland County Resident, Jesse Frolek.
This man, like many others across some southeastern North Dakota counties are just plain fed up. They say, men in white vans have been coming to their property and stealing from them. And its been going on for years, that's why he called our Whistleblower Hotline. In fact, the sheriff of Sargent County says, it's a big problem.
The quiet innocence of rural North Dakota is being invaded by who the sheriff calls, a well-organized group of scrappers.
"They drive right through the yard, they might honk a couple times. They scope the place out and if someone stops by, they try to make themselves look legit and say they're interested in scrap iron," says Frolek.
Jesse Frolek has lived in the Lidgerwood area for about 20 years now. Like most people who have seen these scrappers, he lives on a farm. He says, he's tired of these scrappers showing up at his house asking about his stuff.
"I want to say they've been doing this for about 7 years," says Frolek.
But there's more to this case than just asking to buy scrap metal. The Sargent County Sheriff, Travis Paeper tells us, if you don't agree to sell these scraps, they often come back when you're not home and steal it. Or they wait until busy farming seasons, when you're out in the field working.
"A lot of this is undetected. People will come back and find their items once viewed on their property are now missing," says Sargent County Sheriff, Travis Paeper.
Clint McLaughlin has had some run-ins with these men too. In fact, hes even done some business with them.
"I've actually sold some stuff to them, which worked fine. But I've also heard where people have come and the stuff is gone the next time you return to your farm," says Sargent County Resident, Clint McLaughlin.
Valley News Live: "So what they're doing is illegal, right? But not if they offer to pay for it?”
"That's the gray area, whether you want to call it a ruse or what not. They have every right to go to someone's farm sight, probably, to offer to purchase property. That's a transaction," says Sheriff, Paeper.
Sheriff Paeper says, they've had some luck tracking down these ‘scrappers.’
"We have made arrests in the past. In one incident, it turned into a short pursuit actually and one of the individuals had backed into one of our patrol vehicles," says Paeper.
But they're still scratching their heads. You see, these men aren't your average scrappers. The sheriff says, they know what they're doing.
"We're getting the call for a certain vehicle, lets say a white van. We get to that area and locate a white van, and there's nothing in that van, they gave us consent to search. But we learned later on, that they probably have a second vehicle in the area where they meet up with that vehicle," says Paeper.
Now people like Jesse, are taking matters into their own hands.
"Just last week, they took off and I chased them down to my parents place and verbally warned them again," says Frolek.
But the sheriff tells us, the culprits are still on the road.
"We just have to be vigilant, the cops can't get everybody. I think if everybody is aware of who they are, it's going to make their job a hell of a lot tougher," says Frolek.
So what's next for the sheriff's department who is trying to catch these scrappers?
Sheriff Paeper tells Valley News Live, he plans to start issuing trespassing warnings right on the spot. He says, if they come back, they're subject for arrest. Paeper tells us, they believe the materials they are buying or stealing, are likely being sold down in the Twin Cities.
Paeper says, these men are often driving large white vans, as shown in the story. He says, do not hesitate to call the sheriff's department with any concerns or sightings. The Sargent County Sheriff’s Department can be reached at (701) 724-3302.