Ex­ec­u­tive pleads in lo­cal theft case

N.Y. man worked for one of the na­tion’s most suc­cess­ful sup­pli­ers of first-re­spon­der equip­ment

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

WEST CH­ESTER >> A for­mer ex­ec­u­tive for one of the na­tion’s most suc­cess­ful sup­pli­ers of first-re­spon­der equip­ment pleaded guilty Mon­day to en­gag­ing in a “con­tin­u­ous and sys­tem­atic” plun­der­ing of his em­ployer’s prod­ucts and sell­ing the items on eBay.

Thomas Wes­sells, 56, of Water­ford, N.Y., ap­peared be­fore Com­mon Pleas Pres­i­dent Judge Jac­que­line Car­roll Cody to en­ter his plea to a sin­gle county of theft by un­law­ful tak­ing, a third-de­gree felony.

He did so with­out any agree­ment as to what his sen­tence would be, leav­ing that de­ci­sion up to Cody, who or­dered a pre­sen­tence in­ves­ti­ga­tion in ad­vance of a for­mal hear­ing.

Wes­sells was ac­com­pa­nied at the brief pro­ceed­ing by his at­tor-

ney, Joel Be­necke of West Ch­ester. The for­mer ex­ec­u­tive at the Wit­mer Pub­lic Safety Group did not of­fer any com­ment, but Be­necke said he would present a full ac­count of his be­hav­ior at sen­tenc­ing.

The thefts were dis­cov­ered by of­fi­cials at the Wit­mer Pub­lic Safety Group when Wes­sells was fired from his po­si­tion as direc­tor

of or­der ful­fill­ment due to vi­o­lat­ing com­pany pol­icy on com­puter use, As­sis­tant Dis­trict At­tor­ney Brian Bu­rack, who is pros­e­cut­ing the case, told Cody, read­ing form a three-page sup­ple­ment to the guilty plea doc­u­ment that out­lined his crim­i­nal be­hav­ior.

He had ap­par­ently been view­ing pornog­ra­phy on a com­pany com­puter.

Dressed in a dark gray busi­ness suit, a white shirt and tie and wear­ing glasses, Wes­sells has been free on $25,000 bond.

Ac­cord­ing to the guilty plea and other court doc­u­ments, WPSG is a com­pany that sup­plies pub­lic safety items to po­lice of­fi­cers, fire­fight­ers, and other first re­spon­ders, di­vided up ac­cord­ing to in­di­vid­ual ser­vices, such as the “Of­fi­cer Store” sell­ing items to po­lice of­fi­cers and the “Fire Store” sell­ing items to fire­fight­ers.

Wes­sells was direc­tor of or­der ful­fill­ment for the com­pany from 2005 un­til his ter­mi­na­tion in 2014. Dur­ing the course of his ter­mi­na­tion, the com­pany re­viewed

Wes­sells’ com­puter traf­fic, and dur­ing that re­view, com­pany staff dis­cov­ered sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity on his com­puter and alerted the po­lice.

In the ar­rest af­fi­davit filed last Novem­ber, county De­tec­tive Thomas Gog­gin, the lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor in the case, said that an In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy (IT) em­ployee at the com­pany had checked Wes­sells’ Dell com­puter on Jan. 9, a day af­ter Wes­sells was fired, and found a Ya­hoo.com short­cut that auto-logged into an email ac­count that Wes­sells had set up. It showed an item for sale by a user named “Pow­er2ol,” the type that WPSG gen­er­ally sold and which Wes­sells had ac­cess to.

A search by the com­pany’s IT staff showed a num­ber of such sales, the af­fi­davit stated. They in­cluded pa­trol ri­fle op­tics, lu­men tac­ti­cal lights, and weapon lights sold by the com­pany. An eBay page showed that 108 items had been sold on the web­site be­tween Sept. 13, 2013 and Jan. 9, 2014.

Bu­rack said that an ac­count­ing showed that Wes­sells had sold $284,697.71 in stolen prod­ucts from the “of­fi­cers store.”

For in­stance, Wes­sells stole nine Aim­point pa­trol ri­fle scopes from WPSG, iden­ti­fied by se­rial num­ber. He then sold these ri­fle scopes via the “Pow­er2ol” eBay ac­count to nine dif­fer­ent in­di­vid­u­als, who con­firmed pur­chas­ing the scopes from the de­fen­dant and iden­ti­fied the scopes via match­ing se­rial num­bers.

In an in­ter­view with

county in­ves­ti­ga­tors, Wis­sells ac­knowl­edged sell­ing the items, but said that he had re­ceived in­for­mal per­mis­sion from the com­pany’s founder, James Wit­mer Sr., to do so. How­ever, com­pany ex­ec­u­tives later told po­lice that the se­nior Wit­mer suf­fered from de­men­tia at the time.

Com­pany pres­i­dent James Wit­mer Jr. was seated in Cody’s court­room for the guilty plea. He did not ad­dress the court, and de­clined com­ment as he left the court­room.

Bu­rack told Cody that be­cause of Wis­sells’ lack of a prior crim­i­nal his­tory the state sen­tenc­ing guide­lines called for stan­dard prison term of a min­i­mum of nine months, or up to 25 months if there were ag­gra­vat­ing cir­cum­stances. The mit­i­gated range would call for pro­ba­tion only.

The story of the Wit­mer com­pany is one that is no­table for its fore­sight and suc­cess, as well as its de­vo­tion to the county’s first re­spon­ders.

The Wit­mer com­pany is a “rags-to-riches” suc­cess story in the county. The com­pany was formed by broth­ers James Sr. and Greg Wit­mer, who had been man­u­fac­tur­ers’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives for com­mer­cial restau­rant equip­ment. James Wit­mer Sr. was also an of­fi­cer at the East Brandy­wine Fire Com­pany out­side Down­ing­town.

Ac­cord­ing to the com­pany web­site, in 1994 James Wit­mer Sr. and his wife were at the Har­ris­burg Fire Expo look­ing for equip­ment for the fire com­pany when he spot­ted a worker us­ing restau­rant

equip­ment shelv­ing to hang up fire sta­tion turnout gear. “A light went off in his head and he said, “I can do that ... but I can do it bet­ter!” the com­pany states.

The Wit­mers soon be­gan de­sign­ing their own turnout gear racks. Us­ing only a bread tie, Jim Wit­mer Sr. de­signed the pro­to­type for a spe­cial coat hanger that would keep the coat puffed open so the air would flow into the coat al­low­ing it to dry more ef­fi­ciently, the web­site states. The pair called their new shelv­ing sys­tem, ”Gear­mas­ters,” in­stalled it in the East Brandy­wine fire sta­tion, and be­gan ad­ver­tis­ing in trade publi­ca­tions.

The com­pany also pi­o­neered the con­cept of sell­ing in­di­vid­ual hel­met parts to fire­fight­ers, who had been can­ni­bal­iz­ing old hel­mets to re­place bro­ken parts. Sell­ing just hel­met parts turned into sell­ing pre­vi­ously owned hel­mets, then new hel­mets and gloves and even­tu­ally be­came the com­pany’s TheFireS­tore.com web­site.

The com­pany soon branched out into po­lice and EMS ser­vices, and in 2008 built a new 35,000 square-foot fa­cil­ity in Val­ley, hous­ing a large show­room, ware­house and dis­tri­bu­tion fa­cil­i­ties, and cor­po­rate head­quar­ters. In 2010, the firm added an­other 29,000 square feet of ware­house and dis­tri­bu­tion space in Val­ley. It now has five lo­ca­tions in Penn­syl­va­nia, Mary­land and Vir­ginia.

To con­tact staff writer Michael P. Rel­la­han call 610-696-1544.

Wes­sells

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