Candidate sign thefts investigated by police, campaign officials

DOVER — As campaign season neared an end, candidate signs were about to become irrelevant once today’s votes are cast.

Whether next to a roadway or in a residential yard, the posterized smiling faces of aspiring politicians were seemingly everywhere the past few months.

In some cases, the signs were enticing targets for removal by mostly unknown suspects.

The issue drew publicity late last week after the Delaware Republican Party reported a United States Postal Service employee was allegedly seen on surveillance video removing a Donald Trump for president sign from a Townsend residence.

In a news release, the GOP released two images of the alleged theft in motion. Republicans contacted the U.S. Inspector General’s office and an investigation commenced.

vote-logo-2016Former state GOP Executive Director John Fluharty said he’s received calls daily regarding Republican sign issues throughout Delaware, including one on Friday reporting approximately 75 missing in northern New Castle County since mid-August.

A few other sign stealing incidents were reported in Kent and New Castle counties, with one arrest made in early September.

Smyrna Police investigated one incident where suspects were caught removing Trump signs roughly two weeks ago. The victim chose not to prosecute after the signs were returned, according to spokesman Cpl. Brian Donner.

Authorities said the suspects could have been charged with theft under $1,500 if the case went forward.

At least two cases involving stolen and/or vandalized signs were investigated in Dover, with no arrests made. With 300 overall thefts reported in the past two months, authorities were not able to immediately categorize if any other cases were involved.

Theft, harassment and criminal mischief charges are possible in such cases, Dover Police said.

Delaware State Police spokesman Master Cpl. Jeffrey Hale said “We have one that I am aware of. We are not notified of every case where a political sign is stolen as it is a misdemeanor and we are not contacted on such incidents.”

A 47-year-old Wilmington man was arrested in early September after a sign was allegedly stolen, and charged with theft under $1,500. He was released on his own recognizance pending a future court date.

Earlier, a candidate contacted police regarding roughly 425 signs that had been taken from several spots throughout New Castle County.

Regarding the Townsend case, Mr. Fluharty said a homeowner claimed several signs had been removed before he installed a surveillance video camera that netted results within about five hours.

Camden, Middletown and Cheswold police reported no sign-related investigations.

On Monday, DelDOT spokesman Jim Westhoff said, “We have nothing different or new to report regarding the enforcement of roadside signs.”

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