While rescuers searched for missing children swept away in the July Upper Makefield flash flood, a criminal enterprise was allegedly using the search as cover for a plot to steal Verizon wires from utility poles to sell the copper for scrap.
In fact, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office claims members of the “Get Money Squad” even pretended, at times, to be part of the rescue effort.
The DA’s office arrested eight Bucks County residents and is attempting to track down a ninth member of the gang. They face charges of corrupt organizations, conspiracy, theft and other offenses.
Charged were Ryan Jeffrey Potts, 33, of Bensalem; Marianna Harkins, 36, of Bristol Township; Michael John Cronon, 39, of Bristol Township; Paige Eiseman, 33, of Bristol Township; Frederick E. Lee Sr., 64, of Bristol; Richard Machen, 43, of Bristol; Nicholas Palmer, 27, of Bristol Township; and Raymond Gerald Paul Jr., 38, of Doylestown.
The search is on for Kimberly Ann Mayger, 52, of Bristol.
Court documents published with a news release on the district attorney’s office’s Crimewatch page, characterized Potts and Harkins as the ringleaders of the “Get Money Squad.”
The news release said the squad would climb utility poles, lop off the wires, burn off the protective layers, harvest the copper, and sell it to a scrap yard.
Sometimes it was the thefts — and not the flooding — that caused Verizon service interruptions in and around Upper and Lower Makefield townships in July.
Criminal informants told police that the gang took advantage of closed roads, otherwise occupied law enforcement agencies and the presence of so many people assisting in the search for flood victims to steal wires.
One criminal complaint stated that informants told authorities that “members of the organization cutting the wires disguised themselves as search party members looking for children who were missing from the flash flood. These persons did not assist in looking for the missing children, but they continued to cut and steal the Verizon utility wires.
The thefts cost Verizon more than $250,000 to replace, said officials, who added the gang started operating as early as May and continued through this month and committed thefts throughout Bucks County over that six-month period.
Members of the organization were arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Michael Petrucci who remanded them to the Bucks County Correctional Facility. Potts and Harkins were sent to BCCF under $600,000 bail, 10%, and the others under $500,000 bail, 10%, according to the press release on Crimewatch.
In addition to the theft charges, Potts was also charged with soliciting someone to straw purchase a firearm for him. Potts is not legally permitted to possess a firearm in Pennsylvania.
The investigation was conducted by the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office Drug Strike Force and the Bristol Township Police Department, with assistance from the Bensalem Township Police Department, Bucks County Sheriff's Office, Upper Makefield Police Department, and the Falls Township Police Department.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Christopher W. Rees is the prosecutor assigned the case.