Wednesday, December 17, 2014

2d Bensalem School District mechanic charged with theft

Worker allegedly took more than $2,300 worth of tires and auto parts. His boss was charged last week with taking parts worth more than $400,000.

2d Bensalem School District mechanic charged with theft

A second mechanic for the Bensalem School District has been arrested and charged with stealing tires and auto parts from the bus garage, Bensalem Township police said Tuesday.

But his alleged take was worth peanuts compared to the more than $400,000 in tires, batteries, brake pads and other items that his boss allegedly stole over the past 10 years, according to court documents.   

Martin Chappell, 61, of Bensalem, who has worked for the district for 21 years, stole tires, filters, headlights, wiper blades and other parts worth more than $2,300 “over an extended period of time,” police said in court documents.

Chappell was arrested Monday, one week after his boss, Frederick Lange, was charged with stealing district property from the same garage.

It was Lange,, the lead mechanic and shop foreman at the bus garage, and a former co-worker who tipped off police about Chappell’s alleged thefts, according to court documents.

Chappell, of Crescent Avenue, was charged with theft and receiving stolen property, both third-degree felonies with maximum prison sentences of seven years. He was released on $50,000 bail.

Lange, 68, of Croydon, was charged with the same crimes and with using his cell phone to sell the stolen goods, also a third-degree felony. He was released on $200,000 bail.

According to court documents:

Three “confidential sources” told police that a mechanic known as “Fred” had been stealing tires, batteries, brakes and other parts for 10 to 12 years. He would take the items to his home on Karen Avenue during or after his work day, they said.

On Aug. 20, Lange was arrested after police saw him take two tires from the bus garage and drop them off at his house.

Lange confessed to stealing the tires. He told police he had made $20,000 to $27,000 a year for 10 years by selling the automotive items.

Lange also told police that he thought Chappell had been stealing tires and parts. Last month, he spotted four missing 17-inch Hancock tires on Chappell’s white Chevrolet Tahoe SUV.

Last Wednesday, an “anonymous source” reported that Chappell stole parts and tools when the source worked at the garage. An anonymous source also reported Chappell’s alleged thefts to the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office.

Chappell told police he had bought the tires at Tire City in Bristol Township but did not have a receipt. He later said he had bought the tires on Craigslist.

Police searched Chappell’s garage and seized automotive parts, including wiper blades, motor oil, transmission fluid, brake pads and shoes, air and oil filters, exhaust clamps and hangers, headlights, wire racks and rolling dollies. Some of the items were addressed to the school district.

A Tire City employee said the store did not sell Hancock tires. The employee also said that, years ago, Chappell would bring in new tires not bought at Tire City and exchange them for other tires. The store stopped makiing the exchanges after three or four times, the employee said.    

The arrests were part of an on-going investigation, the police department said in a statement. The district is cooperating with police but cannot comment on personnel-related matters, according to a statement on its website.  

In June, the district hired an accounting firm to help perform a forensic audit. That move followed the resignation of two employees during a district investigation of falsified work records.

Some employees in the facilities department, which consists of groundskeepers, custodians and maintenance workers, reportedly were clocking in for co-workers who failed to show up or were late for work.

Superintendent David Baugh did not return a phone call for comment about either investigation.

About this blog
Chris Palmer covers Bucks County for the Philadelphia Inquirer. His previous work has appeared in the New York Times and on several Times blogs, including City Room, the Local East Village and SchoolBook (which has since been taken over by WNYC). Contact him at cpalmer@phillynews.com, 610 313 8212 or on Twitter, @cs_palmer.

Ben Finley covers Bucks County for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He previously worked for The Associated Press, FactCheck.org and the Bucks County Courier Times, where he won more than a dozen journalism awards from organizations including the Education Writers Association, the Society for Features Journalism and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. He grew up in Columbus, Ohio and graduated with honors from The Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. Contact him at bfinley@phillynews.com, 610-313-8118 or on Twitter, @Ben_Finley.

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