Just how badly five busy criminals can ruin the quality of life in a small rural community was made clear at the Feb. 24 meeting of the Greater Catalina/Golder Ranch Council.
After Lt. Don Kester of the Pima County Sheriff's Department told the council and the 45 people in attendance that the five men - a group he estimated was responsible for 85 percent of the property crime in Catalina - were facing jail time, the crowd erupted in loud and sustained applause.
Catalina neighbors at the meeting seemed to know exactly who Kester was talking about even though he refused their requests to identify the men arrested. The shouted calls for vigilante action and the subsequent discussion as to whether it was legal for a homeowner to shoot a thief, made Kester's reluctance to name names easy to understand.
"Basically, these guys are responsible for a ton of auto theft, a lot of burglaries, a lot of larcenies and a lot of drug and alcohol-related crimes. But the one that really affects the community up there is the property crimes. We've arrested them all multiple times," Kester said in an interview after the meeting.
The arrests, which occurred during a period stretching back to last summer and involved several different law enforcement agencies and PCSD task forces, netted Giuseppe "Joe" Falcone, 25; Tyrell A. Kester, 18; Eric. W. Potts, 29; Curtis D. Yarbrough, 38; and Ramon A. Zavala, 23.
In addition to the crimes they were arrested for, deputies suspect the men have been involved in a host of burglaries and larcenies that stretch from Catalina and SaddleBrooke north into Pinal County.
Abuse of methamphetamine, which has become a scourge in the tight-knit community of Catalina, is common among most of the group, said Dep. Michael Moseley, who patrols the unincorporated village of a little more than 7,000 people.
"A lot of the problem with these guys is drugs. They have a problem with drugs and they support their habit by stealing and dealing," Moseley said. He concurred with his lieutenant's estimate that the arrest of the five suspects could lead to a about an 85 percent drop in the property crime rate in Catalina.
All of the men except Falcone had been booked into either the Pima or Pinal county jails as of March 1, Moseley said. A felony warrant for criminal trespass had been issued for Falcone and deputies were searching for him.
A review of Pima County Superior Court records and Pima County Sheriff Department reports show a history of crime among the five men that helps explain the elation expressed by neighbors when they learned of the arrests.
Yarbrough has by far the most extensive record. His rap sheet stretches back for more than a decade and includes previous convictions for burglary, theft, auto theft and fleeing from law enforcement, according to court records.
"I arrested him when I was a deputy about 13 years ago and he had been at it a long time before that," said Lt. Kester, who now heads the sheriff's department's Foothills District and is no relation to Tyrell Kester.
Yarbrough has been arrested, but not convicted, for violent crimes including aggravated assaults and domestic violence. He's also developed a reputation for fleeing from law enforcement.
On Jan. 16, Pima County deputies stopped Yarbrough while driving a stolen pickup truck in Catalina, but he ran into the desert and escaped. Officers of the Tohono O'Odham Nation arrested him on their reservation less than a week later after he tried to elude tribal police while driving a vehicle that held 10 suspected illegal immigrants.
Yarbrough is suspected of smuggling the immigrants, according to sheriff's department reports.
An indictment handed down by a Pima County grand jury Feb. 4 charged him with 10 counts of endangering the lives of the suspected illegal immigrants during the chase. He also faces charges for auto theft and other crimes in Catalina.
Falcone has an extensive record that includes convictions for assaults and passing bad checks and arrests for burglary and possession of drug paraphernalia. Like Yarbrough, he also has a reputation as a runner.
Having fled from the sheriff's department at least twice in the past, deputies told Falcone he would be shocked with a Taser if he tried to flee when they stopped him in Catalina Oct. 3. He surrendered peacefully and was arrested on outstanding misdemeanor traffic warrants from Pima and Pinal counties, but released from jail before he was charged Feb. 20 with first degree criminal trespass.
Court documents paint a disturbing picture of Falcone as a violent career criminal.
In a presentence report compiled by the Pima County Adult Probation Department after his 1996 arrest for three burglaries committed Northwest of Tucson, Falcone was described as a "documented bully with a propensity to violence and (who) apparently does not have the values of civilized decency."
The report said one of the burglary victims knew Falcone and was so terrified of him she left the state. It also noted an unrelated incident earlier in 1996 when Falcone terrorized two children in an isolated part of Catalina.
"The victims, a 16-year-old girl and her 12-year-old brother were neighbors of Falcone. He accosted the girl on a lonely road attempting to force her off the road. When she stopped, her engine died. He screamed threats at her threatening her repeatedly while throwing gang signs. He also threatened to 'kick the ass' of her little brother.
"The defendant produced a large-blade knife and told her he was going to cut and stab her. He advanced upon her stabbing at her car and slashing the air. She was able to restart the car and flee in terror," the report said.
Potts actually lives in Oracle, although he is suspected of several crimes in Catalina, Moseley said. He was most recently arrested on multiple counts of auto theft.
One victim in Catalina contacted the sheriff's department Dec. 29 after he said he saw Potts in his pickup truck as it drove through the neighborhood just hours after he realized it was stolen, according to a PCSD report.
Court records show Potts has been convicted of assault, criminal damage and possession of drug paraphernalia, according to court records.
PCSD reports indicate Zavala was arrested in September for domestic violence and disorderly conduct. In July, he was indicted by a Pima County grand jury on multiple counts that included auto theft, burglary, criminal damage and "conducting a chop shop," or systematically dismantling stolen cars in order to resell the parts.
Zavala was later arrested and jailed in Pinal County for outstanding warrants. Pima County is currently seeking his extradition for auto theft and violating terms of his probation.
A Dec. 4 pretrial services report noted Zavala's "ongoing criminal activity in the community" and recommended he not be released pending his trial.
Kester, the youngest of the five men, has the shortest criminal record. Within the last four months he pleaded guilty to taking wildlife out of season and alcohol-related violations.
On Jan. 21, he was found guilty of attempted possession of a deadly weapon by a prohibited possessor and sentenced to three years probation.
Within a month, Pima County's probation department filed a court petition seeking to revoke his probation for associating with Zavala, a convicted felon, testing positive for methamphetamine during a drug test, and failing to report to probation supervisors.
Despite their repeated arrests and subsequent releases over the years, Lt. Kester said he feels confident this time the five men will all be looking at serious jail time.
"There are good charges on all five of them that should stick," Kester said. "The community is going to do a lot better with these guys off the street."
Jan Johnson, chairwoman of the Catalina/Golder Ranch council, praised the sheriff's department for their work in bringing in the Catalina five.
"They've been working very close with the community and we're very pleased," Johnson said in a phone interview after the council meeting.
Catalina neighbors who cheered the arrests and were interviewed after the meeting were reluctant to have their names used in this story out of fear the men will someday return to Catalina.
One longtime resident said he spoke for many neighbors who knew the men and were relieved they had been arrested.
"Everybody knows them, and everybody knew they would steal anything that wasn't nailed down. They got what was coming to them," the neighbor said.