Grass Valley resident charged in alleged crime spree |

Grass Valley resident charged in alleged crime spree

Michael Heller
Nevada County Sheriff Department |

A Grass Valley man who already was in county jail has been charged with a slew of offenses allegedly racked up during a four-month-long crime spree.

On Tuesday, the Grass Valley/Nevada City Joint Investigation Team, in cooperation with the Nevada County Sheriff’s Major Crimes Unit, closed a three-month investigation into Michael Heller, 24, re-arresting him and booking him on suspicion of two vehicle pursuits, two vehicle thefts, operating a chop shop, being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition, criminal conspiracy, and possession/distribution of stolen property.

“It’s been weeks and weeks and weeks of investigation,” said Grass Valley Police Lt. Steve Johnson. “We finally linked all our investigations together.”

Heller initially was arrested in April after reportedly being on the run from law enforcement for several months, after violating post-release community supervision.

“We had been chasing him around for quite some time,” said Grass Valley Police Det. Brian Blakemore.

A criminal complaint and arrest warrant had been filed against Heller in March for driving on a suspended license and reckless evasion of a peace officer, in connection with a Jan. 30 incident involving the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office.

Heller reportedly was driving a GMC Yukon and recklessly fled from the deputy; he then ditched the car and fled on foot.

Heller also was linked to a Dodge Avenger that was stolen from a Nevada City motel during an armed robbery in March.

The victims told officers a man who identified himself as “Mike” knocked on their motel room door, and when they opened it, two men dressed in black, wearing black masks, forced their way inside.

One reportedly had a Taser and one had a 12-gauge shotgun. The two robbers reportedly ransacked the room, stealing a cellphone, a computer notebook, and the keys to the rental car.

Two days later, a man driving the stolen vehicle successfully eluded a pursuit that included a CHP helicopter and a K-9 team brought in from Yuba County.

A Nevada County Sheriff’s deputy on patrol followed the car onto Hidden Valley Road and then Twin Star Lane, but the driver of the car reportedly took off, then lost control on a gravel road and hit a tree.

The suspect fled into the bushes and could not be located despite assistance from the helicopter and the K-9 unit. At the time, a loaded shotgun was found in the Dodge Avenger.

In early April, Heller was identified as a suspect in another vehicle theft when a GMC Yukon was stolen from the Pleasant Street area in Grass Valley.

Law enforcement continued to search for Heller and on April 22, he was located and arrested on Pleasant Street in Grass Valley.

At the time of his arrest, multiple cellphones were recovered from Heller that reportedly contained pictures and evidence showing that he had been driving, concealing, dismantling, and parting out the stolen GMC Yukon.

Detectives were able to determine the location of the stolen Yukon and subsequently served a search warrant at the address off Meyers Lane, locating the remnants of the Yukon that had been cut up and dismantled.

Heller reportedly had been coordinating the selling of stolen vehicle parts with Casey Swanson, 23, who lived on Twin Star Road in Grass Valley.

On May 26, officers from the Grass Valley and Nevada City Police departments, as well as from the CHP and the Nevada County Sheriff’s Narcotics Task Force, had served a search warrant on the Twin Star Lane property.

Detectives found a partially dismantled and wrecked vehicle that had been reported as stolen from the Oakland area in 2013, as well as remnants of many different vehicles and evidence related to the sale of stolen vehicle parts.

A wallet associated with a theft in the area was recovered, as well as several guns.

Swanson reportedly had a loaded semi-automatic pistol on him, as well as 4 grams of heroin and more than 5 grams of methamphetamine; a man identified as Austin Alan Cornell, 24, reportedly was found with 2 grams of heroin and a half-gram of meth.

While continuing to track the stolen vehicle parts from the Yukon, detectives reportedly learned that Ryan Schlager, 28, was another associate of Heller’s and was probably in possession of additional stolen vehicle parts.

Detectives began surveillance on Schlager and on June 9, he was arrested after he was caught driving a Chevrolet Tahoe that had the stolen motor from the dismantled GMC Yukon.

A woman also could be facing charges in the future in connection with the chop shop operation, Blakemore said, adding that case is still under investigation. It is not clear whether Nevada City Police will charge Heller in the armed robbery.

Heller has a long arrest history dating back more than a decade, notes Johnson.

“Heller’s arrests include multiple counts of being under the influence of drugs, assault with a deadly weapon (firearm), brandishing a firearm, negligent discharge of a firearm, multiple counts of selling drugs, multiple counts of possession of drugs, possession of a firearm, possession of drugs while armed with a firearm, hit and run causing property damage, driving on a suspended license (habitual), felon in possession of ammunition, and reckless evasion in a vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury,” he said.

Johnson said a prime concern for law enforcement was the scope of Heller’s crimes and the “havoc he has wreaked on the community” with his “wanton disregard” for public safety.

“In many of these cases, Heller has taken advantage of plea agreements in court,” Johnson said. “He has served numerous jail sentences in Nevada County, served a local prison sentence in Nevada County, served sentences in the state prison system, has been granted probation several times in Nevada County, and has been placed on post-release community supervision. In spite of his incarceration and supervision history, Heller continues to place the public and law enforcement at risk.”

Heller is currently being held without bail and is set to appear on the case stemming from the January reckless evasion charges on July 30 in Nevada County Superior Court.

To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4229.

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