Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Friday, August 31, 2012
Another Bensalem school district mechanic arrested on theft charges
Fred Lange (left), Martin Chappell (right)
Posted: August 29, 2012
A second longtime Bensalem Township School District bus mechanic has been charged with stealing district property, after police were tipped off by the first employee who was accused of stealing and reselling auto parts.
Martin “Marty” Chappell, 61, of Crescent Avenue in Bensalem, was arrested Monday as part of an ongoing criminal investigation into the theft of auto supplies and other property at the district’s bus garage.
Chappell, who worked for the district 21 years as a mechanic, is accused of stealing more than $2,300 worth of auto parts and supplies in multiple thefts from the garage over an extended period of time.
Police said they found out about the thefts after last week’s arrest of another longtime district school bus mechanic, Frederick Lange, 68, of Croydon. Lange, lead mechanic and shop foreman for the district, is charged with stealing more than $400,000 worth of truck tires and other auto parts over more than a decade and selling them for an annual profit of at least $20,000.
After Lange was arrested Aug. 21, he told police that about a month earlier, he discovered that four 17-inch Hancook tires were missing from the tire cage in the bus garage, according to a probable cause affidavit.
The next day, Lange said that he saw the same new Hancook tires on Chappell’s white Chevy Tahoe SUV, the affidavit shows. He also suspected that Chappell had been stealing other truck and auto parts and accessories from the district’s bus garage, police said.
In an Aug. 20 telephone call with police about the tires on his Chevy Tahoe, Chappell said he bought them more than a month earlier at a Bristol Township tire store, but he couldn’t produce a sales receipt, police said. Later that day, police said they recovered two stolen Hancook truck tires of a similar size from Chappell’s next door neighbor.
When police spoke to an employee at the store where Chappell said he bought the tires, they had a different story.
The employee said Chappell had called earlier that week and asked for a receipt for four 17-inch Hancook tires, according to the affidavit. The employee told Chappell he couldn’t give him a receipt because the store didn’t sell that brand of tires.
The employee also told police that a few years ago, Chappell would bring in brand new tires, which hadn’t been purchased at the store, and exchange them for different sizes and tires, police said. The practice was discontinued after a few exchanges, police said.
The day after Chappell told police he bought the tires at the store, he called to tell them he had bought them on Craigslist, a free online advertising site, the affidavit said. But he still couldn’t provide a sales receipt.
On Aug. 22, Bensalem police and the Bucks County district attorney each received calls from anonymous sources claiming that Chappell was involved in the same criminal activity as Lange, police said. One of the sources — a former school bus garage employee — told police that Chappell was seen stealing small truck parts at the end of his work shifts. The source also told police that district-owned tools, auto supplies and small truck parts were in Chappell’s home garage.
Later that day, police executed a search warrant at Chappell’s home garage, where a “significant” quantity of auto parts and supplies were seized, including boxes containing auto parts that were addressed to the Bensalem School District at the school bus garage address, police said.
Police also found a receipt for a purchase made by Bensalem School District and paid for by cash and four mounted 17-inch Hercules tires, which police believe were on Chappell’s Chevy Tahoe before he replaced them with the Hancook tires.
Chappell was arraigned Tuesday morning before Lower Southampton District Judge John Waltman on charges of theft by unlawful taking and receiving stolen property, third-degree felonies punishable by up to seven years in prison. He was sent to Bucks County prison, but later released after posting 10 percent of his $50,000 bail.
The newspaper was unsuccessful in reaching Chappell for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Following Lange’s arrest last week, Bensalem Superintendent David Baugh announced the immediate implementation of tighter inventory controls, including increased levels of review, checks and balances and monitoring.
The announcement followed the school board vote to retain a private accounting and advisory firm EisnerAmper LLP to conduct a forensic audit and operational review of designated departments in the wake of recent misconduct by district employees.
Jo Ciavaglia: 215-949-4181; email: jciavaglia@phillyBurbs.com; Twitter: @jociavaglia