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Former Columbus officer admits to stealing police property

Dispatch Media Group, The Columbus Dispatch,
BYLINE: Kathy Lynn Gray, and Allison Manning,

Columbus, OH

A former Columbus police officer has agreed to plead guilty to stealing surplus property from the Police Division, selling it and pocketing the proceeds over seven years.

Steven E. Dean, 49, will admit to embezzling and theft of government property valued at more than $250,000, according to court documents.

No date has been set for the plea hearing in U.S. District Court.

Each count carries a maximum prison term of 10 years.

The crimes took place between Oct. 1, 2005, and June 1, 2012, the documents say. The theft charge says that Dean stole “motorized construction equipment and vehicles, restaurant equipment, scrap metal, generators and other materials.”

Dean and at least one other officer have been under investigation since May 2012, after Columbus Police Chief Kim Jacobs discovered irregularities in the handling of military surplus given to the division through a federal program.

Through the program, the police have received hundreds of items valued at $9.4 million when originally purchased by the Department of Defense. The department can transfer the property — including guns, clothes, vehicles and computers — to law-enforcement agencies.

Dean, an officer for more than 20 years, was an administrator of the Police Division’s surplus program. He was placed on paid leave in 2012 and retired on Nov. 1 that year.

Another officer, Chad M. Knode, 46, also has been questioned; he remained on restricted duty as of yesterday. No charges have been filed against Knode, who has been with the division since 1994.

It was unclear yesterday whether others would be charged in the case. At least one other city employee, a janitor, told investigators he had sold surplus items for scrap with Dean’s consent and kept $30,000 of the money he received.

The Department of Defense Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI took over the probe in late 2012.

Bret Flinn, resident agent in charge of the Defense Criminal Investigative Service for Ohio and parts of Michigan and Kentucky, said it is the largest theft of surplus equipment his office has handled.

The statement of facts filed with the court says that Dean diverted $133,555 worth of heavy equipment, construction equipment and vehicles; $7,490 worth of restaurant equipment; and $94,163 worth of materials that were sold for scrap.

Several local companies stored heavy equipment for him and notified law enforcement when they learned that Dean was under investigation.

Dean also sold $16,353 worth of items on Craigslist, including large diesel engines, a paper cutter, a chain hoist, a grinding machine and a four-wheel scooter, the statement of facts said.

Investigators executed 11 search warrants in the case in 2012 and 2013, including searches of police offices and computers as well as Dean’s home on Blossom Avenue on the North Side.

According to two search warrants filed in federal court in October 2012, the division received 500 to 600 free computers a year through the surplus program, which Dean and Knode were assigned to manage from an off-site warehouse.

The documents say that Knode scrapped about 30,000 pounds of metal, worth about $5,000. He told investigators he gave his money to Dean.

Dean told investigators that any money obtained through scrapping was used for gasoline and maintenance for vehicles used in the program.

After interviewing Dean and Knode, police shut down the surplus warehouse and ended its involvement with the surplus program, police spokesman Sgt. Rich Weiner said.

Dean has been in jail since November, when he was charged with threatening lawyer Mark Collins, who was representing him in the investigation.

As part of the plea agreement, those charges would be dropped

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