[StBernard] Two N.O. Public Works employees arrested for stealing, scrapping copper

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Wed May 11 08:11:22 EDT 2011

Two N.O. Public Works employees arrested for stealing, scrapping copper

Posted on May 10, 2011 at 5:21 PM
WWLTV.com and Mike Hoss / Eyewitness News

CHALMETTE, La. ― Two employees of New Orleans' Public Works department were
arrested and charged with selling stolen city property during a two year
period, the St. Bernard Sheriff's Office said Tuesday.

Delbert Surtain, 39, and Richard Thompson, 34, were booked into the St.
Bernard Parish Prison on one count each of possession of stolen property.
Thompson is being held in lieu of a $12,000 bail while Surtain has been
released on bond.

Both have been suspended from their jobs in the Lights and Signs Division.

Additionally, Chief Deputy Sheriff James Pohlmann said a third person, along
with both Surtain and Thompson, made at least $52,000 for selling copper
wire stolen from New Orleans' Public Works Department to a Chalmette scrap
dealer W.B. Scrap.

"This investigation is continuing into how much identifiable city property
was sold at the dealer," Pohlmann said. "Other arrests are possible."

The three were brazen enough to arrive at the scrap yard in trucks
emblazoned with the words "New Orleans Department of Public Works" on them.

"Criminals are not thinking (about) these types of things," Pohlmann said.
"Maybe they thought they were not drawing attention to themselves."

Once there, the three employees turned in old traffic lights, traffic poles
as well as new items. They were caught Friday when they tried to trade 450
pounds of new copper wire for money.

Pohlmann said estimated value of the property, which began to disappear in
2009, is in excess of $100,000.

Records from W.B. Scrap show that Surtain received $15,000 for wire and
other property, though Thompson hasn't been identified as selling anything
prior to May 6, Pohlmann said.

A third Public Works employee, whose name is being withheld, allegedly
received nearly $37,000 for property sold since 2009.

Officers were tipped off by a man who was scrapping metal on May 6 when he
saw a City of New Orleans truck bringing in a new roll of copper wire.

Deputy Sheriff Gary Noriea found both Surtain and Thompson shortly after
they left the scrap yard and, upon questioning, was told that they had
permission to take the wire because it was left over from a job.

Nathan Barlow, a supervisor at W.B. Scrap, said two years ago a man claiming
to be a New Orleans Public Works supervisor set the whole thing up.

"I never called New Orleans to ask because the supervisor came and he had a
New Orleans shirt," Barlow said. "I think he even handed me a business card
at the time and said his guys would be coming in over a period of time."
--Eyewitness News reporter Mike Hoss contributed to this report

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