No. 3 Crime Story of the Year: Police bust arson, theft ring in Eureka Springs
EUREKA SPRINGS -- The case of an arson and theft that led to the arrest of an alleged kingpin of an arson and theft ring was selected by Carroll County News as the No. 3 crime story of the year.
Though the initial crimes occurred in late 2011, it was in early January that two suspects were arrested, and shortly after, authorities' investigation led them to additional crimes and resulting charges.
Richard Dean Basnett, 61, of Tahlequah, Okla., and Jason Sears, 36, a transient police say lived in Eureka Springs, face a slew of charges for theft and arson.
Their arrests were the result of an investigation into a fire and theft at the Pine Top Lodge in late 2011; Basnett worked next door at the 1876 Inn.
The investigation launched by the Eureka Springs Police Department reportedly turned up three stolen trailers filled with heisted property, all found behind the 1876 Inn. The discovery unearthed what police say was a huge theft ring that required the involvement of law enforcement agencies across Northwest Arkansas, southwest Missouri and Oklahoma.
Approximately $100,000 worth of items were recovered following the men's arrests, police said at the time. At Basnett's home and at other Oklahoma properties, police said they recovered two zero-turn Kabota mowers that were stolen from Berryville Equipment last summer.
"We were able to recover a lot of property and return it to its owners," said Eureka Springs Police Chief Earl Hyatt. "A large amount of property was discovered during the investigation, and the suspects led us to rural area near Carrollton where more stolen property was recovered. We have since identified whose it was and returned it."
Additional hidden stolen goods and contraband began to surface after police interviewed Sears, who was captured in Missouri after a multi-agency pursuit. Sears reportedly admitted to the theft and arson at Pine Top Lodge, claiming Basnett offered him $10,000 and a pickup truck for burning the motel and gave him the fuel to start the fire.
Basnett has not confessed to committing any arson, police have since said, but they remain confident that he was involved.
In 2007, police allege that they caught Basnett in an attempted arson at the Land O Nod Inn in Eureka Springs. The case against Basnett was later dismissed because Tim Weaver, the city attorney, didn't provide the defense with information they had requested. Hyatt said they found lighter fluid, rags and a lighter when Basnett was arrested.
If Basnett is convicted of his crimes resulting in the most resent arson and theft, his arrest history can be used for the sentencing process but not in the phase of the trial in which he is to be found guilty or not guilty, authorities explained.
"We don't want to lead to guilt with other issues, we only use the specific items he is being charged for at that time," Hyatt said.
The ESPD is unsure whether any charges have been brought against Basnett in Missouri for crimes committed in its jurisdiction. Sears is currently incarcerated in Missouri.
Earlier this year, Basnett was federally charged in Oklahoma for unlawful possession of a stolen firearm. He is a convicted felon, and felons are not allowed to possess firearms.
"He has not been adjudicated on local cases yet," Hyatt said. "He was convicted on federal charges for possession of a stolen firearm. He was sentenced and brought back to Eureka Springs to face charges here."
He is currently being held at the Carroll County Detention Center on $300,000 bond. His next scheduled court appearance is Jan. 15.