Two men charged in connection with mail theft on Lopez

Two men have been charged in connection to a high-speed chase and several incidents of theft on Lopez Island in the fall of 2022.

Cleveland J. Anderson, 42, of Sedro Wooley and Lopez, has been charged with three counts of mail theft and one count of attempting to elude a police vehicle. He pleaded not guilty in San Juan County Superior Court on March 4. An omnibus hearing is scheduled for April 11.

Stephanus William Johnston, 34, of Mount Vernon, has been charged with three counts of mail theft. He pleaded not guilty in San Juan County Superior Court on March 11. An omnibus hearing is scheduled for April 22.

On Sept. 27. 2022, a sheriff’s deputy was dispatched to a possible mail theft on Lopez Island. The reporting party had seen photos on social media of someone stealing mail and driving away in a silver Cadillac sedan and later observed the car and people matching that description in Otis Perkins Park. The reporting party took photos and submitted them to the deputy. When he ran the plates, he discovered the license plate had been stolen from a vehicle in Mt. Vernon, Washington. While the deputy was searching the area for the suspects, another call came in about stolen packages.

While driving on Bayshore Road, the deputy spotted the suspicious vehicle. The car accelerated and the deputy turned on his emergency lights and siren. The vehicle was soon going 60 miles per hour and blew through a stop sign. It continued northbound onto Fisherman Bay Road, passing motorists on the double yellow line, exceeding speeds of 100 miles per hour.

His superior advised the deputy to discontinue the chase. He continued in the same direction but turned off the emergency lights and siren. Occupants of the vehicle began throwing items out of the windows and onto the roadway. The deputy stopped and collected the packages. He then called for back-up and drove to the ferry landing, presuming the suspects would try to catch a boat to Anacortes.

When a call came in about a suspicious vehicle on Hilltop Way near the ferry landing, the deputy drove there to investigate. He observed a male subject running away from the silver Cadillac. The deputy drew his firearm and held it in a low position. He identified himself as a law enforcement officer and asked the individual to stop. The man, Johnston, got on the ground and placed his hands out to his sides. Before placing him in handcuffs, the deputy asked if there was anyone in the vehicle; Johnston said no. Moments later, the car began speeding away from the scene.

Deputies continued the search for the vehicle’s driver. Several calls came in to report sightings of the suspect but he was gone by the time deputies arrived. The following day, the suspect was identified by his mother, who called the sheriff’s office about her car possibly being used for the alleged mail theft. She said Anderson had been taken off Lopez by his girlfriend and had since been arrested by Sedro-Wooley police for an unrelated crime.

While being interviewed by Sedro-Wooley detectives, Anderson allegedly admitted to stealing mail and eluding law enforcement and claimed Johnston was the mastermind behind the plan. He also stated there was a third member of their crew from Lopez. The identity of that person has not been confirmed.

Anderson provided the location of the Cadillac. Lopez deputies discovered a large pile of mail and packages inside and beside the car, including a check for $247,000. The mail belonged to numerous victims, some of whom did not live in San Juan County. Other items of note were multiple vehicle titles, a handwritten note with various Lopez locations written on it, a floor jack, hand tools and disposable gloves.

Anderson’s criminal history includes hit and run and driving with a suspended license in Burlington Municipality in Burlington Municipality; driving with a suspended license, operating a vehicle without ignition lock, control of a vehicle under the influence, hit and run, eight counts of burglary in the second degree, theft of a motor vehicle, possession of a stolen firearm, stolen property trafficking, criminal assistance, assault in the fourth degree, unlawful possession of firearms and residential burglary in Skagit County; three counts of driving with a suspended license, driving under the influence and disorderly conduct in Sedro Wooley Municipality; driving with a suspended license in Whatcom District and operating a vehicle without ignition lock in Snohomish County; eluding arrest, two counts of driving with license revoked, resisting a public officer, eluding arrest with aggravating factors in Macon County, North Carolina; manufacturing, selling and distributing a controlled substance, marijuana possession and furnishing alcohol to a minor in Raburn, Georgia.

Johnston’s criminal history includes driving under the influence and retail theft in Skagit County; disorderly conduct in Mt. Vernon; and making/possessing theft tools and obstructing a law enforcement officer in San Juan County.