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03-29-2005, 06:55 PM
Chief knew of thefts at fire scene, police say
Jobs threatened if anyone spoke out, report alleges
By JACQUELINE SEIBEL
jseibel@journalsentinel.com
Posted: March 28, 2005

Muskego - The president, chief and other members of the Muskego Volunteer Fire Department knew firefighters stole pool cues, dart kits and billiard balls from a fire scene but for months tried to keep the crimes quiet, threatening to terminate anyone who talked so the department would not lose public trust, according to a police report released Monday.

From the day of the theft, Chief Edwin Schaefer stored two pool cues, still in their original packaging, behind his desk and Domonic D'Acquisto, the Fire Department president and a former Milwaukee police officer, urged the members not to talk about the incident because "they were not sure how the system would play out," the report says.

According to the report, D'Acquisto asked one firefighter who is now charged in the case, Adam Miller, "Do you realize how many people saw you? Do you realize how this could make the department look?"

D'Acquisto told another firefighter, Mark Rommelfaenger, who was arrested but not charged, that the department would be handling the situation internally since they did not want the media to find out. If Rommelfaenger talked to anyone outside the department, D'Acquisto told him, he would be terminated, the report says.

In an interview with police, D'Acquisto said he was not sure a crime occurred.

On Monday, D'Acquisto said he did not threaten anyone's job or try to cover up the crimes. Members have been urged in the past not to discuss department business outside the department, he said.

The decision not to call police was made by the board, D'Acquisto said. In hindsight, the police should have been contacted, he said.

"Certainly if we ever had a situation that resembles this in the future, that is the direction we would go," he said.

Schaefer said Monday that he was in favor of reporting the thefts, but "the bulk of the board felt we were making a mountain out of a molehill."
Trying to 'save face'

Treasurer and board member Patricia Plewa told police that the board decided not to report the thefts to "save face" and so "no one lost respect for the Fire Department."

More than 200 firefighters from the Muskego Fire Department and several surrounding departments responded to a massive warehouse fire at S84-W19093 Enterprise Drive on Dec. 15. The facility, which stored sporting equipment, sustained $2 million in damage, half of which was merchandise.

An additional $10,000 in equipment was stolen, the owner of Great Lakes Dart Distributors estimated, the report says.

Police were notified about the thefts only by an anonymous caller on Feb. 28, the report says.

After an investigation, eight firefighters and two civilians were arrested, booked and released on suspicion of theft by the Muskego Police Department.

District Attorney Paul Bucher decided last week to criminally charge four firefighters. Big Bend/Vernon Deputy Chief Todd Bluhm was charged with obstructing, Big Bend/Vernon Lt. Jay Richards was charged with theft, and Muskego firefighters Miller and Andrew Peterson were charged with disorderly conduct. All of the charges are misdemeanors.

Police decided not to cite the four other firefighters, two from Muskego and two from Hales Corners. They are still reviewing the cases against the two civilians.

8-balls were prized

Billiard balls were pouring out of the warehouse during the fire, some firefighters said. Firefighters interviewed by police said it was a free-for-all for the taking, with 8-balls deemed a special prize.

Firefighters were putting the balls in the pockets of their bunker pants, the report says.

"Pretty much everyone was doing it," said Andrew Owsiany, who admitted taking a ball or two but wasn't charged.

Great Lakes Dart owner Nicholas L. Voden suspected he was the victim of theft shortly after the fire. At least three area vendors called him to say that someone has been attempting to sell products, such as the Viper brand of pool equipment, which is solely manufactured and distributed by Great Lakes.

One vendor, Bada Bing, 6828 W. Oklahoma Ave., told Voden that a woman came there and said her boyfriend had a basement full of pool cues that he wanted to sell.

Police are still investigating those reports, along with a report that pool cues and dart sets ended up at a Milwaukee pawn shop.

Bluhm and Richards were not called back to the scene the day after the fire, but they showed up because they were "nosy," the report says. Each man first admitted to stealing only the charred billiard balls.

The men later admitted each took a Jack Daniels dartboard case. Richards got rid of his after he couldn't stand the smoke smell in his basement, and Bluhm also dumped his, the report says.

Bluhm told police he first lied because he was scared.

D'Acquisto is a former Milwaukee police officer who was convicted in the 1981 beating of James Schoemperlen. D'Acquisto was forced to resign as alderman after a constitutional change in 1996 prevented convicted felons from holding elected office. D'Acquisto has denied he struck Schoemperlen.

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