GILBERT, Ariz. -- When you see the image of 61-year-old Larry Ruthenberg pushing his mother, 89-year-old Doris, through a store in her wheelchair, you probably think there's a caring son looking after his elderly mother. But Gilbert Police see something very different. They see the duo caught in the act; stealing.
"They kept pretty much to themselves," said Timothy Thomas, who lives in Mesa. He says the two moved in to the home next door for a short time in March.
What he noticed about his new neighbors was their huge amount of stuff.
"There were all of these trucks and stuff parked out front of the house over there," he said. "The driveway full of plants."
"When they had the garage door open, I saw furniture and boxes and boxes of stuff inside of it," said Kathy Thomas. "It looked like they were constantly moving in."
Police now say it was all the result of this mother-son shoplifting ring. Larry allegedly pushed his mom in the wheelchair through a slew of Valley stores, grabbing items and packing them in bags hanging off the chair. They allegedly often targeted and stole from stores with merchandise out front. Detectives say they had several potted plants in their loot from stores like Lowe's and The Home Depot.
Officers discovered the pair partly through what they did next; hosting rather unique garage sales and allegedly selling off their stolen goods.
"Stuff was set up just like a store, like if you go down the laundry aisle you'll see laundry detergent next to other things from that aisle," said Sgt. Jesse Sanger with Gilbert Police. "Things that would be brand new with the tags still on them."
Both mother and son reportedly admitted their scheme to police after their arrests. As for the Thomas', it all makes sense.
"I never put two and two together until now, so it's like 'Man, I'm glad these people are gone!'" said Timothy.
Ruthenberg is in custody on a $36,000 bond. His mother Doris has not been formally charged. This is not the first time Ruthenberg has faced charges of shoplifting. He has a history of arrests with Michigan police for retail fraud.