YouTube helps solve shrub-stealing case

Two Buford-area men who allegedly tried to save money on landscaping by stealing plants from outside a medical office in Braselton are now charged with felony theft by taking, police said Thursday.

Braselton police, assisted by Hall County Sheriff's deputies, arrested Cary Tilotta, 45, on Monday for the May 18 thefts from Wilson Orthodontics on Sprout Springs Road, according to Assistant Police Chief Lou Solis of the Braselton Police Department.

Tilotta's alleged accomplice, Steven Masters, 42, already was in Hall County jail in an unrelated case, police said. The men are accused of taking about a dozen newly planted shrubs valued at more than $1,200 from Dr. Ron Wilson's office. A video surveillance system recorded the incident.

"What the video shows is these guys driving around the building, making sure nobody's there. It's about 6:30 in the morning," Solis told the AJC. "On the second drive-by, they start pulling plants out. They drive around once more; then, they start pulling more plants out."

Wilson alerted the news media, giving copies of the video to Channel 2 Action News and other TV news stations showing two men driving up in a white pickup truck, and one of them uprooting plants and throwing them in the bed of the truck. Wilson also posted a copy to YouTube, asking the public's help leading police to the suspects.

As a result of the doctor's actions, Solis said, "we get phone calls from the YouTube video and anonymous phone calls from the [TV] news stories," pointing investigators to the same two suspects.

Braselton police started watching Tilotta's home on Friendship Road in unincorporated Hall County near Buford, Solis said. Tilotta owns a landscaping company and has a nursery behind his house.

On Monday, an officer conducting surveillance saw a woman leaving, Solis said. With Hall County Sheriff's deputies assisting, police stopped the vehicle being driven by Tilotta's wife, and she put them in contact with her husband. Investigators had Tilotta come in to the police station.

When shown the surveillance video, the man admitted taking the plants, Solis said.

The first explanation Tilotta gave police was that his friend Masters wanted some plants, and he decided to take them from the Wilson's office because the doctor supposedly owed him money, Solis said.

"He also said, 'We were both high on meth, it makes me do stupid stuff and that's why we did it,'" Solis said.

Tilotta, who Solis said has had prior arrests for theft by taking, was charged and booked into Hall County Jail.

Masters. who lives on Maddox Road near Buford, already was being held there on unrelated charges, Solis said. He did not have information about that case.

"Two things happened here: Social media and the news media helped us out because we got tips, and then, old-fashioned police work ... led us to the arrests of these suspects," Solis said.