Badges of dishonor: How two Macon cops became crooks

The Telegraph – by JOE KOVAC JR.

After his midnight shift began on a Wednesday evening late last January, Macon police officer Troy Guidry sent a text message to a buddy on the force.

“Ready to go shopping tonight,” Guidry’s text to officer Jon Wantz said.

For weeks, Guidry had had his eyes peeled for a tractor. He’d been wanting to spruce up the tree line around his 2½ acre yard in eastern Monroe County.  

As it happened, a small Kubota tractor, an orange one with a backhoe on it, was parked inside the gate at the Mr. Rooter plumbing company on Roff Avenue, less than a minute’s drive from the Pio Nono Avenue precinct office where Wantz and Guidry were based.

Guidry texted Wantz again: “I think you had a good idea about that little orange one at the rooter place.” Guidry added that if he spotted a tractor loaded on a trailer, “its mine.”

A few hours later, about midnight, the two cops scoped out the plumbing company while on duty. The gate was open.

A man who lives nearby heard one of the officers announcing his presence, saying, “Macon police,” as if to ward anyone off.

Wantz and Guidry took turns using Wantz’s pellet rifle to shoot out the plumbing company’s security lights. They exchanged texts about how those “lights are tough” to bust.

Guidry texted Wantz, his lookout: “As soon as I get that light I’m getting the trailer.”

With the trailer, the tractor on it, hitched to Guidry’s pickup, Wantz, in his squad car, escorted Guidry north to the Monroe County line.

They hadn’t known that a surveillance camera at the FedEx on Roff Avenue had recorded their getaway. Or that the tractor’s owners had outfitted the Kubota with a GPS tracker that, when the tractor was cranked, pinpointed its location.

Not long after his shift ended about daybreak, Guidry arrived home. A neighbor saw him, still in uniform, driving the tractor. Around the same time, someone at Mr. Rooter checked a computer screen and realized one of the company’s tractors, a $24,000 Kubota, was somewhere it shouldn’t be — 14 miles up Ga. Highway 87 near Lake Juliette.

About 8:30 a.m., Monroe sheriff’s deputies wheeled into Guidry’s dirt driveway.

Guidry sent Wantz an urgent text: “Cops are here!!!”

“Well, good luck with that,” Wantz replied, perhaps unsure whether Guidry was kidding.

But Guidry’s text to Wantz half an hour later left little doubt.

“I’m so f—-d,” it said.

* * *

This story is based on details in a Macon Police Department investigative file, which The Telegraph examined after Guidry and Wantz were sentenced to prison in mid-November.

Guidry, 41, who received a five-year prison term, pleaded guilty to stealing the tractor, criminal trespassing and violating his oath of office.

Wantz, 33, pleaded to the same charges as well as second-degree burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary. He was sentenced to four years behind bars.

The investigative account of their crimes and misconduct includes text messages, videotaped interrogations and detectives’ notes. Hundreds of pages in all, it was an exhaustive effort to ferret out malfeasance that officers were, or may have been, involved in.

The probe led to criminal charges against two other policemen. One has since pleaded guilty to taking two pistols he seized while on duty and giving them to relatives as gifts. The other is accused of improperly taking a handgun from someone and later tossing it in the trash. A fifth officer under scrutiny turned in his badge.

The investigation paints a troubling picture of officers buying and smoking marijuana on duty, of them sneaking into businesses after hours, stealing weapons, computers, heavy-duty lawn mowers, pickup trucks, equipment trailers and, in the end, a high-dollar Kubota tractor. It also shows steps that police took to rid their ranks of cops gone bad.

* * *

Not long after his arrest on Jan. 24, the day authorities found the tractor at Guidry’s house, Wantz began telling on himself — and Guidry.

“I’m a talker,” he told a detective.

Wantz revealed that he and Guidry had broken into a doctor’s office on Ridge Avenue. In June 2012, they climbed in through an unlocked window after shooting out security lights with Wantz’s pellet gun. Inside, they took a tablet computer.

Five months later in November, they went back in and took two TVs, a $1,300 laptop computer and $40 cash. Some of the loot was recovered at Guidry’s house.

Detectives led Wantz to an orthodontist’s office on Northside Drive. They wanted him to show them how he’d broken in there. He said he’d gone in through a window. Investigators learned that in the months before being caught, he and Guidry had slipped into the office a number of times. Nothing was reported missing.

While Wantz was describing the break-in there, as an aside he mentioned how he and Guidry “had been actively using and purchasing marijuana while on-duty,” detectives noted. Wantz said other officers were buying weed and smoking on the job, too, but he refused to name them.

During the late-night break-ins at the orthodontist’s office, Boone Orthodontics, Wantz said he’d seen a 55-inch TV. He recalled Guidry saying it would look good in Wantz’s game room.

Reached by phone the other day, the orthodontist’s office manager, Kate Boone, said she was surprised when detectives showed up in January and informed her that cops had been sneaking into the place.

Boone was glad the TV she’d bought as a gift for her orthodontist father hadn’t been stolen. But a year after the intrusions, she was still shaken.

“It’s very disturbing,” she said. “How do you protect yourself from the police?”

* * *

On the evening of Aug. 9, 2012, a Bibb County Board of Education worker at the school system’s bus yard on Roff Avenue met up with Troy Guidry.

Guidry had dropped by about 8:30 p.m. to say that a maintenance lot gate was open. The worker thanked Guidry and said he would go shut it. When he did, just as he closed it, Guidry, in his patrol car, pulled into view.

Guidry, unbeknownst to the worker, was still inside the locked gate. The worker didn’t have a key to open it.

While they waited for someone to come unlock it, an owl swooped in and landed on a post. The worker snapped a picture of it with his phone. He joked about taking a photo of Guidry as well and sending it to the Macon police chief.

The worker later told detectives that Guidry had asked him not to. Guidry said he didn’t need his cop “buddies to know about me getting locked inside of here.”

A few days later on Aug. 12, according to warrants, Guidry made off with one of the school system’s commercial-grade riding mowers. It was stolen from the area he’d been locked in a few nights earlier.

The mower was hauled away on a trailer pulled by a 1993 Chevrolet pickup that belonged to the BOE.

Two weeks after that, another mower, a trailer and another ’93 Chevy pickup were taken.

The trucks were found within walking distance of Precinct 3 headquarters.

It was January before the mowers turned up. Authorities hunting the stolen Kubota tractor found one of them at Guidry’s house. The other was in Guidry’s native Louisiana. Prosecutors said he’d sold it to his father for $1,000.

* * *

Detectives interviewed a number of Wantz and Guidry’s fellow Precinct 3 officers.

One officer told them Wantz often pulled cars over without radioing in the stops.

Another cop recalled an episode in mid-2012 when Wantz’s squad car “reeked of marijuana,” and a similar encounter about that time when Guidry’s did, too.

The same cop said Wantz had admitted to keeping a revolver he found in a house on Roy Street, across Pio Nono from their precinct office. The cop said Wantz also mentioned taking a handgun from the back seat of a car someone was passed out in. The officer said Wantz told him he gave the pistol away.

From the looks of their investigation, the prospect of stolen firearms was a priority.

Gun thefts by an officer named Jonathan Graves, another Precinct 3 cop, were also discovered by detectives. Graves, 27, pleaded guilty in October to stealing two guns and was sentenced to 10 years on probation.

Earlier this year when detectives questioned him about Wantz and Guidry, Graves mentioned seeing Wantz with known prostitutes while on duty. Graves said he once saw Wantz parked behind a closed business with a prostitute in the front seat of his patrol car.

Wantz, according to Graves, said they were “just sitting.”

Graves recalled seeing Wantz another time with a “hooker” near Montpelier Avenue.

“Jon Wantz later advised Jonathan Graves that he did not engage in sexual relations with the prostitute because she was too drunk,” investigators noted.

Investigators also heard how Wantz was frequently known to take a woman on ride-alongs while he was on patrol. Detective Sgt. Jason Batchelor, a former Army MP and 14-year veteran of the department who spearheaded the probe, interviewed the woman.

Of the 20 or so times she accompanied Wantz, the woman said, “I’m sure it didn’t look good.”

She described her relationship with Wantz as friendly. She said they kissed once. She said Wantz sometimes gave her lifts home when she’d been out drinking. Other times, she said, she’d call him to bring her cigarettes — and he did.

During his interview with the woman, Batchelor explained that such behavior from an officer was anything but proper.

Batchelor said law enforcement is a calling, not something you do for the money or recognition. He said he believed in his “heart of hearts of the purposefulness of this profession.”

“If someone don’t maintain that set of principles,” he said, “I ain’t got no use for you.”

* * *

Batchelor had a question for Wantz: “Why?”

An answer, at least part of one, slowly emerged.

In a blue-gray-carpeted interrogation room, one with a small table, two chairs and a trash can, the suspect cop opened up. A video camera near the ceiling was rolling, and the room was wired for sound.

Guidry had been arrested earlier that day, but Wantz, yet to be handcuffed, wasn’t sure how much detectives knew about his own involvement.

Wantz, in jeans and a Georgia sweatshirt, had been on the force about seven years. He said the trouble started when he was switched to working midnights. He started hanging out with Guidry, a five-year veteran, whom he’d helped train.

Wantz said that in recent weeks Guidry had talked about needing a tractor. Wantz said Guidry had his eye on a huge one on Hillcrest Industrial Boulevard, one Wantz thought was way too big for yardwork. (“Guidry’s dumb as a box of rocks,” Wantz said later.)

Batchelor let Wantz ramble. Then he lowered the boom. Batchelor informed Wantz of the FedEx surveillance video and the text messages detectives had found on Guidry’s phone.

Wantz came clean and detailed the tractor theft. Then he told more. He spoke of checking businesses on his beat after hours to make sure they were secure. It was a routine. But somewhere along the line, he started venturing inside ones that weren’t locked.

“A lot of the doors and windows on businesses, I can tell you, I could go through the city of Macon and get in just about every single business here,” Wantz said.

Wantz said he never thought of stealing until he met Guidry, but that “with finances being what they are …”

He didn’t finish the thought.

Batchelor asked Wantz how he felt about it all.

“So ashamed. … Very embarrassing. It’s not me,” Wantz said. He said he’d justified the stealing, thinking “the insurance company will pay” for what he took.

About an hour into the conversation, Batchelor left Wantz alone in the room with a cellphone. Wantz called his wife. “I’m sorry,” he told her.

Unaware that Guidry had not implicated him, Wantz told his wife that Guidry’s conscience must have gotten to him.

“At the end of the day,” Wantz’s wife said, “it’s his fault.”

Before hanging up, Wantz said, “I’m so sorry. … So stupid.”

* * *

Guidry’s interrogation hadn’t lasted nearly as long as Wantz’s. Guidry lawyered up inside of 10 minutes.

Even so, his interview with detective Sgt. Bill Gay began amicably enough. Guidry, an LSU football fan, had a laugh at Notre Dame’s expense. The Fighting Irish had recently been throttled by Alabama in the national title game.

“You knew Notre Dame was gonna get that ass whupped,” Guidry said.

Then the room fell silent.

“What you want to know?” Guidry said.

“Tell me about the tractor,” Gay said.

Guidry said the Kubota had been there when he’d arrived home that morning, that a man, he wasn’t sure who, had dropped it off. Then Guidry appeared to think better of explaining things.

“It’s best,” he said, “if I just … wait for an attorney.”

Guidry, bald and stocky, dressed in a dark jacket and blue jeans, was left alone in the room to stew. After calling a relative to say he’d been arrested, he sat, quiet. Then he shouted a barrage of expletives.

He shook the handcuffs on his wrists and, in frustration, yelled another cuss word.

Guidry’s face sank to his hands. He whispered to himself, “It’s not happening.”

He fumbled in his jacket pocket for an electronic cigar. Folding and refolding his arms on his chest, he struggled to get comfortable in the cuffs. Then he took a long drag on the cigar. He blew out its fake-smoke vapor and sighed. The gravity of the circumstances appeared to be sinking in.

“I was a good cop, too,” he said to himself.

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.
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