Lawsuit Blames DA's Office for Failing to Supervise Investigators Accused of Stealing High-Priced Comic Books
The Harris County investigators accused of stealing some high-priced comic books earlier this year are once again on the receiving end of some unwanted attention, thanks to a new lawsuit filed in the case.
In a lawsuit filed December 18, Houston-based industrial crane company Tadano American Corp accuses the Harris County District Attorney's Office of failing to properly supervise two veteran investigators, 39-year-old Lonnie Blevins and 41-year-old Dustin Deutsch, who have been charged with stealing expensive collectibles from the company that were being held as evidence in a criminal investigation.
This whole comic book mess started back in May 2012, when Deutsch and his partner Blevins were assigned to investigate attorney Anthony Chiofalo, who was accused of embezzling about $9 million from Tadano, one of his clients. Chiofalo was later found guilty in the case.
Prosecutors say Chiofalo used the money he stole from Tadano to buy collectable memorabilia, including rare comic books like a first-edition "Batman" worth a whopping $900,000. During the investigation, the DA's office seized the collectables, stashing them in storage units for safekeeping.
Rice Owls Mens Basketball vs. Charlotte Mens Basketball
TicketsSat., Jan. 28, 7:00pm
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 10AM-3PM
TicketsMon., Jan. 30, 10:00am
Gridiron Glory: The Best of Pro Football HOF -- 3PM-8PM
TicketsMon., Jan. 30, 3:00pm
Super Bowl Opening Night Fueled By Gatorade
TicketsMon., Jan. 30, 7:00pm
But some of the comic books turned up at a dealer in Chicago, allegedly sold by Deutsch and Blevins. Prosecutors say Deutsch had the keys to the storage units. Blevins, on the other hand, left a paper trail as he played salesman for the duo, prosecutors allege.
Authorities say Blevins sold about $140,000 in comics to a dealer in Chicago in late 2012, but the rock-bottom deal he was hocking them for -- about half of their value -- made the dealer a bit suspicious. But Blevins showed him his badge, and allowed him to make a photocopy of his drivers license.
The savvy dealer ultimately recognized some of the comics as items purchased by Chiofalo during an auction, and the whole case began to unravel.
Blevins pleaded guilty to federal charges in May, but Deutsch opted to see the charges out. He was indicted by a grand jury last month on charges of felony theft by a public servant and evidence tampering.
Tadano is now suing the DA's office, stating that the duo should have been supervised in order to keep this kind of comic book thievery from happening in the first place. According to Tadano, the DA's office "failed to adequately supervise their employees in carrying out the inventory process, securing the storage units, making a detailed inventory of the contents or establishing procedures/internal controls to adequately safeguard the personal property."
The company cites the DA's decision to freeze 125 criminal cases involving investigation work by Blevins and Deutsch as acknowledgment of their negligence.
"The DA's action is further acknowledgement of its actual notice of the negligence, misconduct and claims asserted in this petition," the lawsuit states.
Tadano is asking for the court to award the company an undetermined amount in damages in the lawsuit. We're assuming they'd also like that badass Batman comic back, please.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Houston, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.