The men, a 25-year-old and 64-year-old whose names were not released pending arraignment, have confessed to tossing about 400 tires in Lake County ditches and other illegal dumpings in Newaygo County, Sheriff Robert Hilts said.
Police believe the suspects may have tread more ground, disposing of tires along roads in seven counties, including Kent, Montcalm and Mecosta.
The men, who are in the Lake County Jail, allegedly approached small-business owners and charged them $3 each to dispose of tires, less than the $5 it generally costs to legally get rid of them at a landfill or recycling company. The business owners believed the tires were disposed of properly.
"They’ve been making a killing," Hilts said of the suspects. "This is all pure profit for them because they’re not paying to get rid of them. They’re just dumping them wherever they can find unpopulated areas."
Hilts said the men were arrested alongside a rural road after a corrections officer leaving for work spotted them about 6:30 a.m. and called sheriff’s officials.
"You can only go so long doing this and not have someone see it," Hilts said. "We’re hoping to clear all this up."
Area road commissions earlier this month joined to offer a $4,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Montcalm County Road Commission Managing Director Randy Stearns said his agency has spent $10,000 collecting up to 3,000 tires in recent weeks.
"This has kept someone really busy, going all around doing this, and it’s getting too expensive for all of us to clean it up," he said. "We’re hoping to get some of the money back (in court-ordered restitution)."
Kent County investigators will see if the suspects are linked to dumpings here, as Hilts believes. Sgt. Roger Parent isn’t jumping to that conclusion yet.
"That’s a long way to drive to come this far down and spread some tires out," Parent said. "I don’t think we’re prepared to say these two people are responsible for all these counties involved unless they have some big operation.”