Four thefts solved by business owner

Published 2:37 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Three incidents of stolen copper from various business air conditioning units and one incident of some stolen scrap metal were solved after a local business owner took it upon herself to attempt to capture the suspects.

The first discovered incident of stolen air conditioning coils was found by Sandy Lee, owner of Salem House restaurant. She said in a written statement to the Item that on Sunday, Sept. 12, she got a call concerning damage to her air conditioning units.

Her subsequent calls to the Pearl River County Sheriff’s Department led to the arrest of two suspects, 47 year-old Roberto Votano, and 19 year-old Daniel Joseph Chaplain III, both of 48 Broadway Circle, said Pearl River County Chief Deputy Shane Tucker.

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On that Sunday, she went to check on her business and she and her husband found the three large air conditioning units had been stripped of their copper coils. Her husband also found some other stripped metal components hidden in a wooded area behind the restaurant. Knowing the suspects would be back to attempt to collect the remaining components, she passed by the business again the next day to find a strange vehicle parked there.

Lee took down the tag number and noticed there were two Hispanic-looking men in the car at the time, so she left the area, according to the statement. Upon her return a short time later, she noticed that the younger of the two men, Chaplain, was near the air conditioning units. When she called out to Chaplain, he ran off, crossing a creek and getting back up on Mississippi Highway 43 South. Lee said in her statement that she followed the man, taking pictures of him, until he disappeared into the woods and called the Sheriff’s Department.

Tucker said Votano was the first suspect to be taken into custody when deputy Stacey Amacker arrived. Investigators Shane Edgar and Lance Spiers went to the last place Chaplain was, seen by Lee. He was found walking along the road. Chaplain ran into the woods again when he saw the investigators, but was captured a short time later.

Investigation into the incident found that both men were responsible for three other illegal activities. Tucker said investigators discovered that two other closed businesses had allegedly been vandalized by Chaplain and Votano, the former Chinese restaurant on Miss. 43 South, and Movie Gallery. Both of those businesses also had the copper coils removed from the air conditioning units. Tucker said neither incident had been reported previously.

Also, the investigation showed that the two men are suspects in the theft of some scrap metal from behind Hudson’s in Picayune, Tucker said.

Both men were charged with felony malicious mischief. Tucker said they were not charged with grand larceny since that charge would need an actual value of the stolen property. Tucker said the price of the copper coils is hard to determine, so instead the suspects have been charged with felony malicious mischief, which carries the same amount of jail time if convicted.

Bond for each suspect was set at $5,000, which both suspects have posted.