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New Holmes Beach backhoe could provide evidence of crime

By Merab-Michal Favorite, Islander Reporter

Arnold

A new backhoe in Holmes Beach may serve a dual purpose.

It is intended to help improve drainage woes, but could also be used to dig up some skeletons buried underground, according to Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

These aren’t human remains, but the backbone of a drainage system that officials believe was improperly installed.

Tokajer says he needs the backhoe to close a pending investigation or provide evidence for additional charges against a contractor who allegedly bilked the city out of about $100,000 for a road project.

“We won’t know if allegations that the pipes are faulty are true until we dig them up,” Tokajer said.

Chris Richard Arnold, 62, 4400 block of 101st St. W., Cortez, was arrested Sept. 19, 2013, on a charge that he schemed to defraud more than $50,000. He was paid by the city to replace curbing, although Arnold allegedly only completed half the work.

Since commissioners approved the purchase of the $37,812.95 backhoe for their public works department at their March 25 meeting, police now can dig further into the matter.

Tokajer said Arnold could face additional charges, but the court clock is ticking.

Arnold’s jury trial has been set for Sept. 8, according to the Manatee County Clerk of Court website.

Lisa Chittaro, the assistant state attorney prosecuting Arnold’s case, said she is taking witness depositions and plans to be ready for trial in the fall.

Chittaro said she was not aware of the potential for additional charges against Arnold, but depositions often “bring the case into focus and things tend to surface.”

As the owner of Services by Chris Arnold LLC, Arnold entered into a contract with the city in 2012, according to the probable cause affidavit.

Arnold’s corporate status is “inactive” on the website sunbiz.org. Phone calls to Arnold were not returned.

The agreement was for the city to pay Arnold for replacement curbing arriving at $24.50 per foot. The total payout came out to more than $200,000.

Over the course of three months, Arnold submitted five invoices for work, charging the city for each phase of the project until the full amount was collected.

On April 18, 2013, a former employee of Arnold’s who had worked on the Holmes Beach project told police that his crew had done only half the work.

The employee claimed Arnold instructed his workers to paint over the remaining curbs in order to mask the orange spray paint that indicated that the curbs needed to be replaced.

The public works department inspected and discovered several areas where the curbs had been painted but not replaced, the report said.

Officials claimed Arnold conned the city out of nearly $92,830 and possibly more from other projects.

But Tokajer said the HBPD was unable to pursue any additional accusations because it lacked equipment for the task.

The city purchased the backhoe using $20,000 from funds set aside for Grassy Point Preserve to supplement the remainder from the stormwater utility fund.

Public works superintendent Tom O’Brien said the backhoe would mostly be used to maintain the city’s swale drainage system.

But maybe it will help solve a drawn-out drainage mystery, just this once.

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