Burglary suspect says loot was his

A Boise man accused of taking $803,000 in silver bars and coins from an Eagle home says the items were part of a payoff from a 2008 sex abuse case.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJune 23, 2013 

GILBERTO GARZA JR.

PHOTO PROVIDED BY ADA COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE

  • JOHN SOWELL

    Public safety reporter John Sowell grew up in Emmett but stayed in western Oregon after graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Oregon. He spent the last two decades in Roseburg, covering county government and politics. In his spare time, he officiates high school sports.

In a two-page letter mailed to the Statesman from the Ada County Jail, Gilberto Garza Jr. says the belongings taken from the residence of Richard Mike Phillips had been given to the family of one of the alleged sex abuse victims as a settlement in the case involving Phillips and two underage girls.

Garza, 32, claims he bought the valuables from the father of one of the girls, including the silver, a 2002 Mercedes-Benz sedan, 10 guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition, two bronze statues and jewelry, and went to Phillips' Eagle home to claim them. He said Phillips, the owner of Republic Storage of Idaho and several other area businesses, planned to report the items stolen so he could file an insurance claim.

The break-in occurred between March 17 and April 4, when it was discovered. Deputies say the goods - including the silver - totaled $975,000.

"I simply bought property, which was given to the victim's father and now I've been charged for this guy's false insurance claim," Garza, 32, wrote to the Statesman.

Phillips was accused of inviting two girls, then 15 and 17, to his house, offering them alcohol and then fondling and committing other sex acts with them. He was acquitted by an Ada County jury in 2009 of three counts of sexual battery of a minor and two counts of lewd conduct.

Phillips did not respond to telephone messages left with his Boise office over the past week.

The defense attorney who represented Phillips during his criminal case said he finds Garza's claims unbelievable.

"That's hilarious," Boise attorney D.C. Carr said. "That seems pretty far-fetched."

Chuck Peterson, the attorney who represented the family of one of the girls in 2009, said he is unaware of any settlement.

BURGLARY TOOK DAYS

The evidence police say they collected at the home suggests a break-in rather than a business deal. Thieves broke into the residence, removing a sheet of plywood screwed to a utility room wall that concealed an opening into the five-bedroom home built in 1988. They purchased power saws and heavy-duty cutting blades before going to the residence. They also rented three U-Haul trucks and a pair of short-term storage lockers.

Once inside, they sawed through a gun safe in the garage, ransacked the rest of the home and left toilets filled with feces and urine, according to a search warrant affidavit filed in Idaho Fourth District Court. There also were animal feces and urine stains found on carpeting throughout the house.

Garza reportedly bragged to others he was responsible for the burglary, the court record said. A confidential informant told police in late April that Garza told an associate he "did not like (Phillips) due to some criminal matters he went through," according to the affidavit. Garza told the person he cut through a wall and was able to enter the home undetected because a security system had been disabled to allow work to the home, the document said.

A police inventory sheet listing the items stolen from the residence takes up 148 lines and fills more than two sheets of paper. It details valuables such as the bronze statues of a cowboy and Native American valued at $74,000, and a built-in wide-screen television valued at $5,000. It also shows household items worth much less, such as a set of bath towels and washcloths, trash cans, laundry detergent and flip-flops.

Less than half of the items taken from the home - which sits on 1.1 acres that border the BanBury Golf Course and is valued at $509,000, according to the Ada County Assessor's Office - have been recovered. Several thousand dollars worth of coins were found during a May 16 search of a home rented by Garza in the 3400 block of North Tamarack Drive, along with a washer and dryer, three guns, television sets, a couch and power tools, according to search warrant documents filed with the court.

The documents don't detail the value of the items recovered and officials declined to say what has happened to most of the 18,000 Silver Eagle coins worth $638,920, 30 100-ounce silver bars worth $98,370 or silver quarters and half-dollars valued at $66,180.

Detectives investigating the case traced saw blades and cutting wheels used to break into the gun safe to a Home Depot store on North Milwaukee Street. Store security tapes showed two men picking out items and paying for them on March 23, according to court documents. One used a credit card issued to Jessica L. Engelhardt that Garza was authorized to use.

Detectives found the same credit card was used to pay for rentals of the U-Haul trucks between March 19 and April 1. The trucks matched neighbors' accounts of U-Haul trucks seen at Phillips' home when the burglary took place, according to the affidavit.

In addition, the credit card was used to make payments at a Stor-N-Lock storage facility in Boise. Engelhardt rented a 10-by-25-foot unit and a 10-by-30-foot unit in mid-March and used them until April 2, according to court records. Garza had access privileges.

A man matching Garza's description and who drove a 2004 Cadillac Escalade registered to Garza on March 29 sold 90 Walking Liberty half-dollars to the Peoples Store in Ontario, Ore. Garza reportedly brought 200 of the silver coins minted between 1916 and 1947 with him but the store did not have enough cash to purchase all of them. Garza received $2,340 for the ones he sold.

The next day, Garza allegedly sold 20 one-ounce silver coins to Vista Pawn in Boise.

HIS SIDE OF THE STORY

Garza and Engelhardt, 25, are each charged with burglary and grand theft. The couple got married in early April, after the crime they're accused of committing was reported, but before they were arrested. Their cases have been consolidated and they're scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing July 8.

If convicted, they could face up to 24 years in prison.

Garza remains in the Ada County Jail in lieu of posting $200,000 bond.

Engelhardt posted bond in the same amount June 3 and was released, only to be taken into custody the following day on a warrant from Canyon County. She was accused of two probation violations for failing to comply with sanctions from a 2010 drunken driving conviction. She was released Friday after posting $5,000 bond.

Garza said he wrote the letter because his side of the story wasn't being told in media reports based on information gleaned from authorities and court records.

"What I think is unfair is how supposed facts from this case, which are offered by police and (the) district attorney, are stated but never the other half," Garza wrote.

Patrick Orr, a sheriff's office spokesman, declined to comment on Garza's claims.

"He can say whatever he wants," Orr said. "We charged him and arrested him, and now it's up to the court to determine what happens."

One of the alleged victims from the 2008 case - who was 15 at the time and is now 20 - told the Statesman she has not had any contact with Phillips.

"I haven't even heard his name in years," she wrote in a message to the Statesman.

The other alleged victim, then 17 and now 22, did not respond to a Statesman message sent to her Facebook account.

Peterson, the Boise lawyer who represented the parents of the 17-year-old five years ago, told the Statesman that any settlement talks ended long ago.

Before Phillips went to trial in 2009, Peterson sent Phillips a letter asking for $3 million to avoid a civil lawsuit, according to court records.

Peterson would not say Wednesday whether Phillips responded to the letter in 2009, but told the Statesman his clients "walked away" from taking further action.

According to court records, neither family of the alleged victims filed a lawsuit.

Ann Cosho, an Ada County public defender who initially represented Garza, declined to comment on Garza's claims. Earlier this week, Garza hired the Boise law firm Sallaz and Gatewood to represent him. A call to that office was not returned.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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