In an investigation that’s been ongoing for nearly four months, the Philomath Police Department connected items stolen from a Mount Union Avenue residence to a suspect who is currently facing felony charges on other alleged burglaries and is jailed in Lane County.
The Philomath burglary occurred April 29 in one of the city’s quieter neighborhoods — a cemetery is on one side of the street and a row of nine residences on the other. The victimized homeowner left his residence that morning and headed to a planned event. Roughly 3-1/2 hours later, he returned to find an unsettling sight.
While pulling in, he could see that his garage door was open — something that he told police never happens. Items in the garage had been moved around, he noticed, and so to play it safe, the man parked in the driveway. He walked through the attached garage and into his house.
The call to police followed at 3:36 p.m. with Philomath Police officers Mike Wulk and Mark Koeppe responding. The victim took police through his residence and pointed out items that were missing and various cabinets and drawers that had been opened.
The burglar had done a real number on the home — nearly $175,000 in items were taken, including an 18th-century Lorenzo Carcassi violin that alone was valued at $85,000.
Beginning on that afternoon and in the following weeks, Philomath Police and several other agencies have worked together to try to build evidence against the suspect, identified as 35-year-old Faisal Al-Ansari, of Springfield, while also recovering several of the most valuable stolen items.
Lt. Dave Gurski said that the progress that Philomath Police and the other law enforcement agencies have seen on the case has been “incredibly satisfying,” especially when it comes to getting those valuable items back to the victims.
“It’s very rewarding to be able to recover that property and then reunite the original owner with that — they feel whole again,” Gurski said. “And not only that, it’s nice to hold the person accountable who did it and when they’re in custody, then the victims of that crime don’t feel like someone’s still out there and could come back. So I think there’s a sense of relief there.”
In the Mount Union Avenue case, a neighbor approached police and shared video surveillance from that morning that showed a man dressed in black pants and shirt with possibly a white hoodie walking north up the street. The man could be seen walking into the victim’s driveway before going out of sight of the video.
About 1 hour, 15 minutes later, the video showed a red Chevy S-10 Extreme pickup — one with distinct features — that stopped in the victim’s driveway for about two minutes. The pickup had no items other than a tool box upon arrival but had been loaded up prior to departure.
Police were able to obtain more video along with bits of witness information from others in the general vicinity.
Less than two weeks later, Philomath Police received a tip from a local resident who found a red Chevy S-10 Extreme for sale. Police reviewed the Facebook Marketplace listing and determined it was very likely the same vehicle suspected to have been used in the Philomath burglary.
Al-Ansari had been identified and from there, search warrants moved the investigation along and even included a trip to California.
On June 17, Eugene Police Department detectives arrested Al-Ansari. Later that day, investigators from the Philomath Police, Eugene Police, Benton County Sheriff’s Department and Corvallis Police served a search warrant on Al-Ansari’s home in Springfield.
During that warrant service, and several other follow-up search warrants, Philomath Police was able to recover the vast majority of items stolen from the Mount Union Avenue burglary, including most of the missing rare musical instruments.
Early the following week, Philomath’s Gurski and Wulk flew to Hesperia, California, to investigate a woman who was on the receiving end of packages coming from Al-Ansari. The granting of three search warrants and an interview with the woman, who had allegedly been selling items for Al-Ansari online, led to the discovery of several items. Among them was that most valuable violin taken from the Philomath victim’s home.
“At some point in the investigation, we determined that he had been shipping stolen property down to an acquaintance in California, so that’s what led us down there,” Gurski said.
Gurski and Wulk loaded all of the recovered items into a Dodge Grand Caravan and drove back to Philomath.
Investigators suspect that Al-Ansari is also responsible for numerous burglaries committed in Corvallis in March and April. In addition, Al-Ansari has been connected to other alleged burglaries in Benton County, Eugene, Creswell, Aumsville and in the Portland metropolitan area.
“One of the interesting facts of the whole case is we believe he uses as a cover his employment to access neighborhoods and people’s homes,” Philomath Chief of Police Ken Rueben said, describing the man’s job as residential cleaning and maintenance.
Philomath and Eugene police are leading the ongoing investigation.
In the Mount Union Avenue case, the victim headed down to the Philomath Police Department in June to identify his stolen property — including the $85,000 violin recovered in California and a $28,000 violin found at another site. Not all of the man’s instruments were recovered and multiple other items, including jewelry, were still missing as well.
“This was a combination of several agencies working together,” Gurski said. “I mean, Eugene Police Department was incredibly helpful and obviously, we probably couldn’t have made the case without the neighbor and her video and then the follow-up of finding the vehicle for sale on Facebook Marketplace.”
In Lane County, Al-Ansari faces two felony charges of first-degree burglary as well as felon in possession of a firearm. He was scheduled to go on trial this week but according to Lane County Circuit Court records, it was rescheduled for Oct. 26.
A glance at Al-Ansari’s criminal record dates back to 2006 and includes arrests for burglary, theft, driving under the influence, drugs and most recently, identity theft in 2015. Based on the conditions of his release, Al-Ansari was placed on post-prison supervision with a parole and probation officer in Lane County.
Rueben said the Philomath case is currently scheduled to go before a grand jury in mid-September.