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Harvard police have arrested three men they say are involved in a theft ring that’s been operating in the area for several months, raiding vacant buildings on Salerno Circle at Devens and stealing copper piping and brass valves worth thousands of dollars.

“We’ve been after these guys for months,” said Officer William Castro. He said the arrests have put a dent in one of the largest theft rings he’s seen in his 25 years in law enforcement.

Castro and Officer Kim Murphy arrested the three men Monday afternoon on Harvard’s Depot Road. Arrested were David Goyette Jr., 29, of Boxborough, Joshua Nyren, 29, of Plymouth, and Aaron Tompkins, 19, whose last known address was in Amesbury.

Goyette is charged with conspiracy, breaking and entering, a felony; receiving stolen property, felony; trespass; larceny, felony; and malicious destruction of property. Nyren and Tompkins are charged with receiving stolen property, felony; and conspiracy. All three men were arraigned in Clinton District Court. Goyette and Tompkins are being held on high bail. Nyren was released on personal recognizance.

Castro said Nyren and Tompkins are new recruits but Goyette is a professed ringleader. The three men met at a rehab facility in Worcester, he said, and were reportedly planning a party after their recent release, funded with money from the metal stashed in the woods off Depot Road.

Harvard police and Massachusetts State Police at Devens have been on the lookout for the thieves for months. The break finally came when a Harvard resident called police to report a suspicious car parked near his driveway. Murphy and Castro went to check it out, but there was nothing notable about the vehicle except an out-of-town registration.

But given that the area on Depot Road abuts Salerno Circle, Castro decided to wait it out.

His persistence paid off. The men returned and drove off with the goods. They were stopped and a check turned up “non-bailable” warrants for two of the men from several jurisdictions on drug charges. A search of the vehicle turned up a hypodermic needle and a small amount of marijuana, Castro said.

After the officers sorted through an array of false identities and conflicting stories, Castro said, all three men were arrested and taken to the Harvard police station for booking. Two bags containing about 400 pounds of metal pipes and brass fittings were found in the vehicle’s trunk. Castro estimates the haul to be worth around $500. It had apparently been waiting in the woods for several weeks while Goyette was in the rehab hospital.

Sketching the operation, Castro said thieves typically get dropped off by accomplices near the railroad tracks and hike over to vacant buildings through the woods. After stripping the metal and bagging it, they haul it back. If the coast is clear, they transport it then and there. If not, they hide it.

Goyette confessed to the thefts, Castro said, and provided other useful information. Receipts showing he’d sold the goods were found on his person. The stolen goods were weighed and sold at a location in Townsend, Castro said.

Police are now tracking suspects from Harvard, Fitchburg, Leominster and New Hampshire with ties to the theft ring, Castro said. More arrests are expected.

Residents are often unaware of the investigations their police forces are involved in, day in and day out.

Cases such as this one remind us of the work done behind the scenes every day. It’s work that takes training, skill and patience and often results in actions that make the rest of us that much safer.

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