Steal. Sell. Repeat. Wave of construction thefts leaves Utah buyers stuck paying the price

Feb 2, 2023, 10:53 PM | Updated: Feb 4, 2023, 3:30 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – They thought it was a steal. Turns out, several families got scammed.

While Derek Clark Johanson now faces multiple felony charges for selling stolen construction equipment to unwitting Utahns, his alleged victims argue he’s been given too many chances by the judicial system.

Stay-at-home-mom Stephanie Stokes says she and her husband Carl are victims of Johanson. Charging documents state the Brigham City couple purchased a skid steer loader from Johanson in late November of 2022.

“We had been saving for years,” Stephanie Stokes said. “We bought this house about six years ago. It had no landscaping done at the time. It just sat on a big hill. We just had one little kid and we were trying to make it flat so they could play.”

They found what they were looking for in the classifieds – a Caterpillar 246 C skid steer in good shape.

“The ad was listed for $14,999, but we ended up working out a deal,” said Stokes. “We ended up paying $13,000.”

She said Johanson went by the name Jason. After days of phone calls back and forth, the Stokes made arrangements to meet with him in Salt Lake City.

“It happened to be an apartment complex back in a cul-de-sac,” Stokes said. “We met him there in the parking lot. [The skid steer] was sitting right there. He said he was moving, and they were trying to get rid of some things that he had with his business.”

“Jason” claimed he bought the machine years ago and was getting rid of it after buying a new one.

The Stokes said they felt he was credible and got a bill of sale for the transaction. Days later, they got a knock on the door.

“We had police showing up at our house saying our skid steer that we purchased was stolen and that it didn’t belong to us,” Stokes said.

The Stokes returned the machine to its rightful owner, an asphalt paving company.

Not only did the family lose the $13,000 they paid for the machine, but additional money they put into repairing it.

And they are far from the only victims.

Kaysville firefighter Kasey Adams and his family are out $19,000 after he was sold a 2013 Kubota in November of 2022. He said he also purchased the skid steer from a person who went by Jason.

Adams found a tracking device on the machine, and soon confirmed it was stolen.

Just like the Stokes, Adams returned the skid steer to its original owner. He said he and his wife will likely never see the money again.

“It was a lesson we learned the hardest way possible, and we just move on,” Adams said. “There’s nothing else we can do.”

In 2021, KSL spoke with a Pleasant Grove couple who said they lost $11,500 after getting scammed. A friend sent Draper firefighter Cody Jolley a screenshot of an article detailing the arrest of two men who were accused of stealing $750,000 worth of construction equipment. Jolley had recently purchased a skid steer from one of those men, who he recognized from the story.

“We were just stunned. I couldn’t believe it,” said Julia Jolley, Cody’s wife. “It’s a lot of money. It’s devastating. It’s a blow.”

Sgt. Greg Moffitt with the Sandy Police Department said this scheme is one his officers have seen before.

“It can be just as simple as having your phone, going up to a construction site after it’s been shut down for the day, seeing a skid steer or skid loader or any other equipment that’s on scene, taking a picture of it, going and loading it onto a classified ad, and seeing if you can get any takers,” Moffitt said.

That’s what charging documents say Johanson has done time and again. He’s been convicted in six felony cases for this type of crime.

“He was moving that equipment from those sites to meet the buyer and then make it a transaction,” Moffitt said.

Documents say the spot where the Stokes purchased their skid steer was a two-minute drive from the construction site where it was stolen.

According to Sandy Police, Johanson also stole a skid steer from a Christmas tree lot located at 8995 S. State Street in Sandy. Matt Shadle has had that spot for 28 years.

“We parked it… very close by the security guard’s trailer,” Shadle said.

His family relies on the skid steer for a lot of their work.

“A skid steer is such a versatile tool,” Shadle said. “We use it for dirt work, the hay behind you, we use it on our farm, ranches for all sorts of things.”

He said he couldn’t believe it when his $25,000 skid steer went missing right from under his night guard’s nose.

“I get a call at 2 o’clock in the morning, all my phones are ringing – I’m like, what’s going on?” Shadle said. “’Your skid steer was stolen and it’s going to get impounded if you don’t come to get it now.’”

Unlike other victims, Shadle’s skid steer was tracked down before it was re-sold to an innocent buyer.

“I want to thank the gentleman that helped me get my skid steer back,” Shadle said.

Stokes said that gentleman was her husband, Carl, who had help from his brother and a friend.

“[They] ended up finding another KSL listing for a skid steer that looked very similar, sold by the same ‘Jason,’” she said.

The men arranged to meet ‘Jason,’ which police said is Johanson’s alias, hoping to get him arrested.

“They drove down there, were able to meet with him and they called 911 as soon as they realized this was the same guy,” Stokes said. “The police came and he and a driver they didn’t know about were able to take off, and the police were able to catch him later and save that skid steer from being stolen.”

Police say Johanson has a list of partners he works with.

“There are people that are of like mind, and in some cases unfortunately, some of them may be battling the same addictions,” Moffitt said. “They find some sort of fraternal relationship or friendship that exists between them when they engage in a pattern of criminal activity.”

Despite multiple arrests and convictions, victims are frustrated Johanson keeps getting second chances. At the time these two skid steers were stolen, Johanson was on probation from drug court. Charging documents said he was wearing an ankle monitor at the time.

“He kind of gets a slap on the wrist and gets back out, and gets right back at it,” Stokes said.

“He came into an agreement with the court to try to get his life turned around, he went out, subsequently committed new offenses, those new cases were brought to us, we filed on that, and we’re going to take away the privilege from him because he apparently is not getting the benefit from that,” Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told KSL.

After he was booked at the end of 2021, charging documents state officers listened to Johanson tell his wife on the phone that “he would be okay because he would just get drug court.” Johanson was correct. He was given the opportunity to complete the Salt Lake County drug court program instead of going to prison.

“It is certainly not uncommon that there are people who get the benefit of getting an opportunity to get help and not everybody successfully completes that,” Gill said.

Gill said he plans to move forward with the case and see it to the end.

“Now he’s going to be held accountable to the full extent of the law on previous cases, as well as the new one,” he said.

It’s small comfort for the Utah families who lost sizeable amounts of money after buying the stolen skid steers.

“We’ve had to put a lot of things on hold, and what we were trying to make happen probably won’t happen,” Stokes said.

Johanson is currently being held without bail. He has a court hearing scheduled for next week.

The Sandy Police Department recommends buyers use e-commerce spaces in police department parking lots for transactions. They also said it’s helpful to register serial numbers for property, like skid steer loaders, on the National Crime Information Center database. They also recommend putting tracking devices on the equipment.

“If you have some way to personalize that equipment through an engraving or something along those lines, that gives it one more identifying character,” Moffitt said.

Law enforcement suggests potential buyers run VIN or serial number checks on equipment before they purchase it. A VIN inspection, which can be done by a member of law enforcement, can help the buyer figure out if the equipment was stolen. It’s important to run the number before buying the equipment, otherwise the buyer doesn’t get to keep it, and law enforcement will then try to track down the seller.

*KSL TV does not assure that the money deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account, you should consult your own advisers and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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Steal. Sell. Repeat. Wave of construction thefts leaves Utah buyers stuck paying the price