WALLA WALLA - A Prescott man remains a key suspect in a recent spate of Touchet Valley burglaries, after the Walla Walla County Prosecutor dismissed ear- lier charges in the hopes of building a bigger, better case against him.
The case against Jimmy Mathews, 33, identified in court records as a resident of Prescott, is part of an ongoing investigation into one of the biggest property theft and trafficking operations in the area's history. It recently yielded hundreds of stolen items at a residence in Walla Walla.
Mathews was arrested in mid-December and charged with three counts, including trafficking in stolen property in the first degree, possession of stolen property in the second degree and possession of heroin. The first offense is a class B felony while the sec- ond two are class C felonies.
But on Feb. 8, the state asked the court to dismiss those charges because the county sheriff continues to produce more possible evidence that could lead to additional charges against Mathews and other potential suspects, County Prosecutor Jim Nagle said.
"The case isn't ready," Nagle said in reference to a state requirement to move to trial within 60 days of filing charges. "We're finding out more and more. We only get one chance."
Mathews' attorney, Jerry Makus, could not be reached for comment.
During a drug bust in Walla Walla in December, lo- cal law enforcement officers stumbled on an enormous treasure trove of stolen items, the county's largest in recent memory. One observer lik- ened the discovery to walk- ing into the Home Depot.
The raid on the Walla Walla home of an accused drug dealer, Richard Eugene Cornwell Jr., turned up so many missing items, it took a crew of nearly a dozen of- ficers from the Walla Walla County Sheriff's Office and Walla Walla Police Depart- ment 12 hours to haul them away.
Nagle said his office plans to re-file and possibly add charges once the Sheriff's office is caught up on the huge backlog of stolen items from the raid and more goods are potentially linked to Mathews and an unknown number of associates.
Court documents filed in support of the December charges against Mathews al- legedly link him to the string of burglaries that plagued the Touchet Valley last fall.
"Mathews has been the suspect in a number of the near 40 burglaries that we have had in the past three months in the Walla Walla, Waitsburg and Prescott ar- eas," according to the cer- tificate of probable cause composed by Walla Walla County Sheriff's Deputy Gary Bolster.
The break-in of a stor- age unit belonging to Laht Neppur Brewing Co. owner Court Rupenthall of Waits- burg in early November led investigators to Mathews' vehicle and residence, where they allegedly uncovered tools from burglary victims in Columbia County and Waitsburg, a bicycle stolen in Spokane and loaded heroin syringes.
"He was a significant player in the movement of stolen property in the tri- county area," Walla Walla County Undersheriff Eddie Freyer said, noting the num- ber of break-ins has dropped significantly since Mathews was first arrested. "We took a bite out of crime on this one, but we're still pursuing other leads."
Freyer described Mathews, whom Bolster characterized as a jobless heroin user, as "a floater" with a prior arrest record.
"He's a known player to us," Freyer said.