FERNDALE - Five members of a theft ring have been convicted of trafficking in bronze vases stolen from a Ferndale-area cemetery.
More than $20,000 in vases were stolen - an armful at a time - from Greenacres Cemetery, 5700 Northwest Drive, in the winter of 2012. Many of the gravesites kept the 8-pound vases in a hole under the headstone, so families could leave flowers for their loved ones.
Brian Flowers, manager of the cemetery, said they'd been taken gradually, and caretakers didn't notice they were missing for about a week. Each one was worth up to $200.
In February, deputies showed a photo of the missing vases to an employee at Alrite Recycling in Bellingham. Immediately she recalled a man, Richard Jordan Neal II, had just sold about 100 of those vases to the business.
Deeper research showed two other people - Nicholas John Parker II and Autumn Dawn Marie Tucker - had sold bronze vases to Alrite Recycling, according to charging documents filed in Whatcom County Superior Court.
Parker, 35, died before his case reached trial.
Deputies found out a man named Arsenio Michael Gray had asked Tucker to sell 12 vases for him because he didn't have a proper ID. Gray knew they were stolen but claimed Tucker didn't.
A couple weeks later, another man tried to sell 17 bronze vases to SAB Recycling on Guide Meridian. The suspect, Ryan Allen Getz, claimed he got them from a friend who told him the vases were still a little "warm," according to charging documents. He knew "warm" meant stolen. Getz, 33, was arrested.
Last week he pleaded guilty to second-degree trafficking in stolen property. Getz agreed to serve a sentence of 19 months in prison. If he's approved for an alternative sentencing program for drug offenders, half of that time will be spent in treatment outside of prison.
He was the last suspect in the trafficking ring to plead guilty.
? Getz' friend, Joshua Alfred Anderson, 34, entered his guilty plea within 24 hours of being charged in June 2012. Superior Court Judge Charles Snyder ordered him to serve 16 months in prison for first-degree possession of stolen property. Anderson had felonies on his record for first-degree theft, dealing meth and jumping bail.
? Gray, 23, a sex offender, pleaded guilty to second-degree trafficking in stolen property. He was sentenced in June to serve eight months in jail.
? Neal, 24, a felon, admitted to two counts of first-degree trafficking in stolen property. He was handed a 15-month prison sentence in October.
? Tucker, 20, jumped bail before pleading guilty to third-degree possession of stolen property in December. Her one-month jail sentence could be converted to work release. She had no felony history.
Last year, Flowers called the thefts "heartbreaking and infuriating."
About 100 of the vases were ultimately recovered, but several were damaged beyond repair.
Flowers credited the recyclers with catching the culprits.
Those convicted agreed to repay a total restitution of $16,800. Asked if he ever expected to see that money, Flowers just laughed.
"And you can quote me on that," he said.
In the meantime, about two dozen vases were replaced at the expense of the funeral home. The cemetery has since boosted its security, Flowers said. He declined to elaborate.