Hundreds of thousands in thefts went unnoticed for months by DeKalb Watershed, investigation finds

DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. — A Channel 2 Action News investigation has found that the DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management has reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in thefts, and some of the thefts or disappearances were not even discovered for weeks or months.

A whistleblower tipped off Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher to request police reports for the huge watershed depot on Roadhaven Drive off Mountain Industrial in Tucker.

The spokesman for DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said the county has increased security at the site, and the depot has at least the appearance of being well protected.

There is a fence, a staffed guard shack and signs warning of 24-hour video surveillance. Nonetheless, $100,000 worth of copper tubing was stolen in March.

A police report said the doors to the warehouse where the tubing was stolen were standing open and were undamaged when the theft was discovered.

In a statement, a county spokesman told Channel 2 that our whistleblower was not correct when he told us security cameras were not operating when the tubing disappeared. Police tell a slightly different story.

“In the last incident, we discovered that one of the cameras was inoperable, or we could not get a feed through one of the cameras,” DeKalb police Lt. Shane Stanfield told Belcher.

Asked whether that suggests an inside job, the spokesman wrote that the case is under investigation by police.

If the theft was the work of an employee, our investigation found it was not the first time an employee was suspected of theft.

The earliest report we reviewed was from April 2020, when a $150,000 backhoe was discovered missing. The report said it disappeared at some point in the two months prior to the discovery. No one noticed during those two months. The piece equipment was recovered three months later.

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In July 2020, DWM discovered three backhoes had disappeared sometime in the previous two and a half months. Apparently, they went unnoticed for that entire period.

Newer police reports provided on Thursday show that two of the backhoes were discovered at other county sites, and one was found in Hall County. The report does not say whether the disappearances are being treated as thefts.

Also, in July of 2020, police got a call to a light industrial area off East Ponce de Leon Avenue, about a mile from the DWM facility. The site on Brer Rabbit Drive was the last known GPS ping location of a $65,000 mini-excavator that had been taken off the lot 20 days earlier.

According to the police report, “There weren’t any logs available to see who had the equipment” the day it left the yard.

Businessman David Faggard told Channel 2 photographer Alvin Bryant he recalls seeing a heavy trailer in front of his industrial paint plant where the excavator last pinged.

“We called the police, and they came out and they couldn’t find any, and they said there was no (equipment) reported missing,” Faggard said.

A county spokesman said a DWM employee was fired and charged criminally with theft of the excavator. The county’s statement does not explain how the suspect was able to get the equipment off the lot without detection.

Stanfield told Belcher that the site is making security improvements.

“They’ve got a security guard in the booth to monitor vehicles coming in and out. They also have a guard that roams. And they’ve got some other measures in place that I don’t want to make out public,” Stanfield said.

He would like county workers to step up.

“The employees, if they see something that doesn’t look right, they should report it directly to their supervisor and/or to the police, if need be, and let us handle anything that we need to handle,” Stanfield said.

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