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Warren school janitor accused in $80,000 theft

By Mitch Hotts

November 7, 2013

A substitute janitor for Fitzgerald Public Schools charged with stealing close to $80,000 worth of music equipment and iPads said he needed the money to "raise my family," according to Warren police.

John Risdon, 28, of St. Clair Shores, was arraigned Wednesday in 37th District Court on charges of embezzlement between $50,000 and $100,000. His bond was set at $10,000.

The amount of property taken in the case is among the largest Detective Sgt. Chris Mills has seen in his career.

"When our guys were talking to him as they served a search warrant on his house, he basically said 'I'm trying to raise my family,'" Mills said.

Police received a report from a Fitzgerald High School principal in September about equipment -- mixers, cordless microphones, and more -- that was missing as school officials went to conduct an assembly. School officials conducted an inventory and found the amount of the missing items totaled about $79,000.

About a month later, police were contacted after 19 iPads were reported to be missing from Westwood Elementary School.

Suspecting the items were taken to a pawn shop for cash, Warren detectives used an online service that tracks activity at pawn shops and tracked down the missing equipment. They soon found out it had been pawned by the suspect and had video to prove it.

Risdon made about $6,000 from the sales that took place over the summer and officers found another $5,000 worth of items in his car, according to police.

"Thanks to today's technology, we were able to develop leads quicker than in the past," said police Commissioner Jere Green.

Precious metal dealers and pawn shop owners are now required to electronically record purchases they make, Green said. Using the online service, police were able to enter the description of missing equipment and the service tracked down where the equipment was sold at.

Officials said Risdon was hired in April to work afternoons through a third-party contractor the district was using. The thefts began in May but were not discovered until classes resumed in September.

According to Fitzgerald Superintendent Barbara VanSweden, the suspect formerly worked for the district.

"This one person should not be considered an example of our employees, are who overwhelmingly loyal, hard-working and honest people," VanSweden said.


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