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Report: Dewey police have private slush fund

Appelbaum probe reveals department sells surplus goods unchecked
October 13, 2017

A report on complaints against Dewey Town Manager Marc Appelbaum has revealed the town’s police department has not been reporting to town officials on money received from selling surplus military materiel.

Max Walton, the Wilmington-based attorney hired by the town to look into employee allegations against Appelbaum, said for an unknown time, the police department has received federal surplus equipment, stored it at an employee’s farm and a local auto body shop, and then sold it without reporting the profits to the town’s bookkeeper. He said it appears the transactions have not been documented by the town or subject to audit.

“Sale proceeds are not distributed to the town, and the money is used at the department’s exclusive discretion, at least on some occasions for the purchase of police equipment and vehicles,” he writes.

A footnote in the report said an unidentified officer testified the town hasn’t bought a police vehicle with town funds in at least 10 years, due, in part, to the sale of surplus equipment. Walton said the officer described the proceeds as a slush fund used to pay the bills for equipping police cars.

Rick Cross, attorney representing the complainants, who include police Chief Sam Mackert, beach patrol Capt. Todd Fritchman and building inspector Bill Mears, could not be reached for comment. Nor could Dewey Beach Mayor TJ Redefer.

Dewey Police Sgt. Cliff Dempsey, one of the original complainants, said he could not comment on the report.

Appelbaum said Oct. 11 that he was aware the police department was participating in the program, but not to what extent. He declined to make any further comments.

In the report, Walton writes that Appelbaum only recently learned of the department’s participation after two new police vehicles were purchased with the proceeds from the sale of equipment for just under $100,000.

“We are concerned that this practice may not satisfy required disclosure and accounting standards and needs to be reviewed immediately,” Walton wrote.

This is the second time since a coordinated revolt against the town manager began in mid-June that it was revealed Appelbaum had questioned police operating practices in the months leading up to the employee complaint.

In early September, the Cape Gazette reported Dempsey’s holstered duty belt was stolen from his unlocked and unmarked police vehicle April 15. The belt included a Glock 21 .45-caliber firearm, two fully loaded .45-caliber magazines, an X26 Taser, pepper spray, baton and handcuffs.

The town issued no report on the loss of the weapon, and according to Walton’s report, Dempsey has never been disciplined for the theft of his weapon.

Delaware State Police Master Cpl. Gary Fournier said Oct. 12 the gun and magazines have not been recovered.

In September, when the report surfaced, Cross said the theft of Dempsey’s gun is unrelated to when the complaints were filed against Appelbaum.

Participation in surplus program not unique

The federal surplus equipment program offers for free to local police agencies clothing, office supplies, tools, rescue equipment, vehicles, rifles and other small arms.

Dewey’s participation is hardly unique. According to the Defense Logistics Agency, the Department of Defense's largest logistics combat support agency, since the program began in 1997, 8,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States, and its territories, have participated and received $6 billion worth of property.

A list found on the logistics agency’s website shows that in Delaware, 29 police agencies have participated in the program, including most of the agencies in the Cape Gazette’s coverage area – Milton, Lewes, Georgetown, South Bethany, Bethany, Milford, state police, Department of Fish and Wildlife, Department of Parks and Recreation, and Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Enforcement. The one notable absence is Rehoboth Beach.

The same list shows the Dewey Police Department has received 48 shipments of surplus equipment, totaling 151 items, since March 1999.

In 2017, the department received 14 surplus shipments between Feb. 14 and March 28. Items included a van, boat, snowplow blade, four diesel engine generators, eight laptops, 12 tires, a mechanics toolkit, pallet jack, tool cabinet, a rough-terrain forklift, an all-terrain vehicle, a television, and winches, hoists, cranes and derricks.

Dewey saga brings popular web poll

The employee complaint against Appelbaum has been covered extensively through the summer and into fall, but it’s an issue that keeps changing, and it’s grabbed the attention of Cape Gazette readers.

For only the fourth time since Jan. 3, 2011, a Gazette web poll broke the 1,000-vote level, this time with a question asking what Dewey Town Manager Marc Appelbaum should do. For the poll ending Oct. 12, a total of 1,152 people responded, with 36 percent voting he should resign, 57 percent voting he should remain and 7 percent voting not sure.

Records available online show the Gazette has had two web poll questions a week for nearly 8 years. The first time the number of votes broke 1,000 in that span is also the highest. A question Jan. 5, 2012, dealing with Dogfish Head’s rezoning application in Milton, received 1,959 votes, with 95.6 percent voting it should be passed, 3.8 percent voting it should be denied and .7 percent voting they weren’t not sure.

The second most votes occurred for a March 24, 2014 question about the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. That question received 1,430 votes, with 24.9 percent voting it was great, 4.3 percent voting it was not bad and 70.8 percent voting it was not good.

Finally, the Dec. 8, 2014 question was the fourth time the 1,000-vote mark was surpassed. It asked if Sussex County County Council should approve proposed RV parks. That question received 1,284 votes, with 16.47 voting yes, 81.5 percent voting no and 2.1 percent voting not sure.

Generally speaking, the vote totals represent individuals, not one person inflating the totals. Chris Rausch, Cape Gazette sales and web analytics manager, said voters can vote more than once on these polls, but only once from each of their devices, like once on their computer and once from their phone, he said.

Take these unscientific polls for what they’re worth, but they are an interesting look back and often provide insight on issues the Cape Region was going through at the time.

In some cases, the questions are still relevant today. One example is from March 10, 2011. The total number of votes, 240, is much less than the 1,000-vote-barrier busters, but, nearly 8 years later, the question remains, does anyone understand Dewey politics? At the time, 72.9 percent of voters said no, 14.6 percent said yes and 12.5 percent said sort of.