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Published: Friday, 7/23/2004

Police float funds to retrieve boat trailer

BY TAD VEZNER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Ted Liechty is happily reunited with his boat trailer after police retrieved the item, first by posing as buyers in an eBay auction and then rendezvousing with the seller. Ted Liechty is happily reunited with his boat trailer after police retrieved the item, first by posing as buyers in an eBay auction and then rendezvousing with the seller.
MORRISON / BLADE PHOTO Enlarge

The police chief, the detective, and the dispatcher all huddled over their station's computer screen, engaged in an eBay bidding session that had finally come down to the wire.

"There was a good bit of vocal rivalry," Lake Township police Chief Mark Hummer said.

"It took us two days to realize we were bidding against each other," Lake Township Detective Mick Lento said.

Finally, Chief Hummer offered a final $215 bid on the posted 12-foot pontoon boat trailer - a legitimate, believable bid, they all agreed.

"I knew I'd get to win," Chief Hummer said - although what, exactly, he'd won was still in dispute. Though the original owner of the trailer swore it had been stolen from his trailer park's storage facility on June 11, there was still a chance the man was mistaken.

"I was going to have some trouble explaining to the [township] trustees why we bought a pontoon boat trailer, though we do have a pond out back," Chief Hummer said.

Two days later, the chief and Detective Lento went to pick up the trailer, accompanied by the trailer's original owner, Ted Liechty of the Wood Lake Trailer Park in Millbury.

"If it wasn't my trailer, I was still going to pay for it because I needed one," Mr. Liechty said.

Mr. Liechty's neighbor, Tom Beyer, saw the trailer posted on eBay while searching for a trailer to buy. He copied the seller's real name and address - Jeremy H. Goldthwaite, 23, of 6726 Emch Rd., Walbridge, all listed on the site - and gave the information to Mr. Liechty, who took it to the police.

The police conducted aerial photography around the residence of Mr. Goldthwaite, spotted the trailer, submitted the bids, and arranged for the exchange on Wednesday.

But on the way, Mr. Liechty saw his trailer pulled over on the side of U.S. 20 in Perrysburg, near their meeting point at the Perrysburg Lowe's Home Improvement store.

"I said, 'That's my trailer!' But he was just sitting there," Mr. Liechty said.

Pulling off to the side of the road a half-mile away, Chief Hummer called Mr. Goldthwaite on his cell phone and asked where he was. Mr. Goldthwaite replied that he had run out of gas and said he'd pay $10 if the chief could come and give him a lift.

"We gave him a ride. We were nice," Chief Hummer said. "It just wasn't the ride he wanted."

Perrysburg police, who drove in to assist with the arrest, charged Mr. Goldthwaite Wednesday with receiving stolen property, a felony. He now sits in Wood County jail in lieu of $5,500 bond.

Mr. Goldthwaite told officers that he'd received the trailer from someone else. But when they checked his other eBay auctions, police found at least two other stolen trailers for sale.

The first, belonging to Randolph Harms of Maumee is still posted. The second, a U-Haul car dolly registered out of Ottawa Lake, Mich., also was confiscated when township police found them on a property in the 6300 block of Keller Road in Moline.

Chief Hummer said he does not believe the man living on the property knew he was harboring stolen goods.

Lake Township police will charge Mr. Goldthwaite today with three additional felony counts of receiving stolen property as well as two felony counts of tampering with evidence for changing the trailers' license plates.

As to how many more of the 72 items Mr. Goldthwaite sold on eBay since becoming a member in May, 2003, were stolen, his eBay reputation offers little indication. With a 92 percent "positive" rating from buyers, Mr. Goldthwaite's standing suggests mostly satisfied buyers.

Hani Durzy, an eBay spokesman, said that because of the way the company is set up, eBay can't be responsible for the sale of stolen goods.

"We're a marketplace - a venue," he said. "We don't take possession of anything, so we can never verify the ownership of anything that sells on eBay."

Because of that, Mr. Durzy said, eBay sets a high bar for those making stolen property claims: They try to deal solely with law enforcement officials, and - in rare instances - individuals who have a copy of a police report.

"In the grand scheme of things, it's a very small problem. EBay is about the worst place for people to sell [stolen goods] for the exact reasons this person was caught," Mr. Durzy said. "Everybody sees it. It's akin to putting a giant spotlight on it."

But when Toledo police Det. Blake Watkiss - one of three members of the northwest Ohio High Tech Crimes Task Force - hears that, he gets upset.

"No, no, it's very disingenuous for somebody at eBay to say that," Detective Watkiss said. "Looking for things on eBay is kind of like finding a needle in a giant haystack."

Because of that, he said, stolen merchandise showing up on eBay is "not uncommon," but it's not worth police officers' time to search for such items there unless they are unique or rare.

The bottom line, said Richard Eppstein, president of the Better Business Bureau for northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan, is that when it comes to online auctions, "You're really on your own. The fact that they cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of these products is true."

Mr. Eppstein said that consumers, in order to protect themselves, should work with eBay sellers that are established enough to allow credit card transactions and have a long history of positive reviews.

Contact Tad Vezner at:

tvezner@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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