This next story can only be told in segments. It started out as a simple arrest for operating under the influence. Then a stolen truck was found sticking out of the snow. It all turned out to be the biggest case I ever worked as a trooper.

It took years and involved most of the Eastern Seaboard states from Maine to Florida. The more I dug, the more it kept snowballing into more and more cases. So sit back and follow along as I share this greatly satisfying, and sometimes frustrating, story.

It started late one night when I stopped a driver for suspicion of OUI in Greenville. Once I approached the operator, I knew immediately who he was and boy was he ever snookered. I brought him back to my cruiser for further investigation and processing for the OUI charge. Little did I know how well-connected he was to the seedy underbelly of that wonderful little town. Throughout this story, I’ll refer to this man as C1 (confidential informant No. 1).

After getting him in the cruiser that early morning, I thought I was dealing with yet another drunk driver trying to make it home from a local bar after having a few too many drinks. Even though that is what he was trying to do, the traffic stop launched an investigation that literally changed the town in the criminal sense.

Seems as though C1 would do anything to get out of another OUI arrest and when he started offering information I was all ears. It was almost unbelievable — the names he mentioned and what they were up to. Several of the names he spilled I knew were chest-deep in criminal activity that was way bigger than I had the resources to go after.

After listening to his story, which explained the rash of recent arsons in town, gun-running out of the country and drugs back into the country, I asked him for something that was current that I could put my hands on. That way, I could test whether I could trust C1 and his information.

He told me about a piece of stolen blue construction equipment from out of state now in a building in Greenville —  out in the open in the middle of the floor. He even told me the brand name of the equipment. I told C1 that, for the time being, I would process him for the OUI then hold the paperwork from the DA’s office and see where his information led.

Obviously, if his information didn’t pan out, he would be prosecuted for the OUI and that would be the end of it. During some of the days that followed, I kind of wished that was what had gone down.

The next morning I started with the piece of equipment. First, I had to prove it was stolen. There was no way I could enter the building legally and get the serial number. I researched teletypes for stolen equipment throughout New England. No luck. Then I called the manufacturer to learn about the equipment. As luck would have it, the serial number was on the front panel where the controls were. It was a seven-digit number preceded by a letter.

I drove by the facility several times. When the doors were open, the equipment was clearly visible. But I still had no probable cause to legally get inside. And when I caught the guy, I knew it had to be by the numbers or I would lose it in court. I had to prove this particular piece was indeed stolen and the only way to do it was through the serial number.

One day, I spoke with a person who knew the suspect well enough to know he was a criminal and he knew not to get too close to the suspect. This person had reason, though, to go to the location where the supposed stolen equipment was situated, so I asked him if he would do me a favor.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Well, there is this piece of equipment sitting on the floor of this building. It’s blue and big. And the serial number is stamped right on the front of it by the controls. What are the chances you might go over there and memorize the number and get it back to me?” I asked.

“No problem. I’ll do it right now.” And off he went.

An hour later my friend called and told me he had the number. He said he had gone to the suspect’s location and, sure enough, right in the middle of the floor was the piece of equipment. He found the number, memorized it and then wrote it down after he left the building.

I called Maine State Police Headquarters in Augusta to run the serial number through NCIC, a computer-based search engine in which stolen items from across the country are entered. The dispatcher ran the number and, just like that, it came back stolen. It had been taken from Connecticut and somehow ended up in Greenville. Sure enough, the information coughed up by OUI suspect C1 had turned out to be true.

The next trick was to keep C1 confidential and to get a warrant to search the building. I wanted to do all this and go after all the other information that C1 had provided the night of the OUI arrest. Tune in next time for the search and where it all went from there.

Just another day in the life.

Mark Nickerson is a retired Maine State Police Trooper. The 28-year veteran lives in Unity. The award-winning columnist may be reached at menick@uninet.net.