Man jailed for theft after claiming lost tortoise valued at $5K was his

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX -- Part of the family. That's how Natalie Deatsch describes her pet African Spurred Tortoise, named Jeeps.

"She's my baby. I've had her since she was a hatchling," she explained.

She's thrilled to have her baby back home after the 10-year-old, 80-pound tortoise got out of the backyard last Friday while her mom, Trisha Walker, was pet-sitting for her. 

But this tortoise tale has layers of twists and turns.

"I looked at it and thought that's pretty cool," Tempest Deptuch said. "A few people stopped and took pictures of it." 

Deptuch found Jeeps in their Phoenix neighborhood. Concerned for the animal’s safety, she took the tortoise home and posted lost posters around her neighborhood.

Within 20 minutes Derek McKnight called and told Deptuch the tortoise, valued at $5,000, was his.

"I took it off her hands because I deal with a lot of animals," said McKnight during a jailhouse interview with 3TV. "All the animals at my house are rescues or injured animals and we raise them and find homes for them or keep them at our home."

Deptuch let McKnight have the tortoise, after all, his story sounded legitimate.

"He says, 'I saw the sign. I left my tortoise with a friend and he left the gate open,'" Deptuch said.

But she made sure to get McKnight's phone number and information off his ID.

That was a good move because as it turned out, McKnight didn't really own the tortoise." As he drove away Trish came over and said, 'My turtle's missing, the gardener left the gate open,'" Deptuch said.
"When I showed up, I could tell they were really upset," said Phoenix police Officer Ryan Ferrell.

He used that personal information McKnight left with Deptuch to track him down.

"Could I have just taken a report number and said we'll try to follow up on it?" Ferrell asked. "Yes, absolutely, but it didn't feel right. I said more needs to be done for this."

Seven hours later, Jeeps was home.

"I'm thankful to everyone," Deatsch said. "Phoenix Police Department was amazing. They handled it incredibly. They were supportive and gracious."
As for McKnight, he's behind bars. He claims he never meant to steal Jeeps.

"I was just looking out for its safety," he said.

McKnight told 3TV he is currently on probation for past run-ins with the law.