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November 7, 2013

Police: Janitor sold school’s iPads and audio equipment

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

WARREN — A 28-year-old janitorial subcontractor has been charged with felony embezzlement after police said he took more than $78,000 worth of iPads and audio equipment from buildings in the Fitzgerald Public Schools district and sold them at area pawnshops.

John Anthony Risdon, of St. Clair Shores, turned himself in at Warren’s Christopher M. Wouters Police Headquarters Nov. 6 and was later arraigned in the 37th District Court on one count of embezzlement over $50,000 but less than $100,000. The charge is a 15-year felony.

Warren police were reportedly contacted by the principal at Fitzgerald High School on Ryan north of Nine Mile Road earlier this year after audio equipment was discovered missing from a music room and a studio. Police were also asked to investigate the apparent theft of 19 iPads from the district’s Westview Elementary School on Warner north of Stephens and west of Ryan.

Using a list with serial numbers of the missing audio equipment and iPads, Warren detectives tracked several items through an electronic service used by pawnshops and scrap dealers to report sales. Several items allegedly came back as sold by Risdon.

Warren Police Detective Charles Younkin, the officer in charge of the case, went to several pawnshops in Macomb County to collect evidence that allegedly linked Risdon to the sales.

The investigation reportedly revealed Risdon was a janitor once employed by the district but later laid off. He was brought back as a subcontracted custodian in April and allegedly had access to the district’s buildings.

Records allegedly show Risdon’s first transaction at a Warren pawnshop was made on April 23 and that he allegedly sold goods most recently at a Fraser pawnshop on Sept. 27. Police said electronic records showed a total of 31 pawn transactions linked to Risdon since April. 

 Detectives executed a search warrant and recovered $5,035 in audio equipment, pawn receipts and tools from Risdon’s vehicle. Two homes were also searched during the investigation.

Police said some of the items had been sold already but that 10 iPads with a total value of $5,280 remained on hold at various area pawnshops. The district would reportedly have to pay about $2,800 to get the items back from the pawnshops.

A total of $69,164 in equipment was allegedly taken from Fitzgerald High School. The iPads taken from Westview Elementary had a total value of $9,793.10.

Police said Risdon pocketed $6,158.98 in cash from the sales.

Attorney James Hiller, standing in for defense attorney Joseph Arnone, asked 37th District Court Judge Matthew Sabaugh to set a manageable bond in the case. He said Risdon has ties to the community and is not a flight risk. He also asked that Risdon be allowed to continue working as a condition of his release on tether in order to pay any potential restitution.

“He’s not a danger to the community,” Hiller said.

Warren Police Commissioner Jere Green said the case was a perfect example of the department’s continued need to use technology to track pawn and scrap sales.

Pawnshops, scrap dealers and second-hand stores were already required to submit sales information to police under local ordinance and state law.  However, the city contracted with LeadsOnline, LLC last year to track the sales electronically.

“The reporting method for pawn shops, precious metal dealers and scrap metal places used to be a piece of paper in an envelope, mailed to the Police Department. With this new LeadsOnline contract we have, it’s an Internet-based program that requires, through ordinance, that the pawnshops or the scrap dealers or the precious metal dealers that take the items in, it requires them to report to the Police Department directly within seven days of receiving the property,” Green said. “It allows for real-time investigation to occur.”

Green, who also serves as the president of the Warren Woods Public Schools Board of Education, said embezzling property from schools hurts districts trying to make ends meet with limited resources.

“You’re stealing from kids. These are tools used to educate children, and you’re selling them at pawnshops. Is there no honor among thieves?” Green said.

Sabaugh set bond for Risdon at $10,000 cash or surety.

Risdon was scheduled to appear for a preliminary examination before 37th District Court Judge Dean Ausilio at 8:45 a.m. Nov. 19.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.