Council approves LeadsOnline to aid unsolved theft cases
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – The purchase of a subscription to LeadsOnline, approved by the Hot Springs City Council at their meeting last week on Tuesday, Feb. 21, is hoped to have an immediate impact on some of the Hot Springs Police Department’s unsolved theft cases. The service allows law enforcement real-time access to a nationwide database of items bought and sold at pawn shops, and is something current Police Chief Ross Norton used successfully while working for the Custer Sheriff’s Department.
One of those unsolved Hot Springs theft cases was recently brought to the attention of the City Council at its Feb. 6 meeting, when Hot Springs resident Michelle Salvatore spoke during Communications from the Public when she expressed her frustration with the Police Department.
In February 2022, Salvatore’s 85-year-old mother passed away in her Hot Springs home while receiving in-home hospice care. Salvatore claims her mother was a victim of elderly abuse, which included the theft of many of her mom’s personal belongings like jewelry and collectibles.
In an email to the newspaper last year about the alleged incident of elderly abuse and theft, Salvatore said the stolen items included gold, silver, precious stones, antique jewelry, as well as her grandmother’s wedding present of silverware, a white full-length mink coat, and several boxes of unopened designer perfume, along with many other gold items and the wedding rings of her relatives.
Salvatore alleges that the theft and abuse was at the hands of the people her family had entrusted to her mom’s care. She told the City Council at the Feb. 6 meeting that she had previously shared names and leads with the Hot Springs Police Department which prompted an investigation by then-Chief Jen Winscot.
“Imagine the devastation and complete shock and violation of having your mother pass away before you and knowing that she had been robbed by someone you trusted, someone she knew,” Salvatore stated in a previous plea for help following the death of her mother. ‘We have a big family and we were also robbed of our inheritance and these precious treasures were to be passed down to OUR family.”
Recently, Salvatore inquired with new Police Chief Ross Norton on the progress of the case, which is when she learned that the case had been closed, pending more evidence, due to not being able to properly identify the alleged stolen items.
Frustrated with the fact the case was closed, Salvatore asked the City Council on Feb. 9 for their help to have the Police Department reopen the case and conduct a proper investigation for herself, her family and her mother. She urged the Council to use “all of your resources to find out what happened.”
Salvatore told the City Council that, during her discussion with Chief Norton, she learned of the LeadsOnline database, which both Norton and Salvatore thought could be beneficial in her case.
At the Feb. 21 City Council meeting, Chief Norton described a case he solved while a Deputy for the Custer County Sheriff’s Department when he utilized the LeadsOnline database to recover a stolen welder which was taken by a recently terminated employee of a Custer area business.
Following Norton’s comments, the council unanimously approved the $2,091 annual subscription fee for LeadsOnline, which will be funded by a future contingency transfer.
Also during last week’s City Council meeting, the council again voted down a renewed motion to award a $200 bonus for Evans Plunge Mineral Springs Lifeguards, Front Desk and Custodial Staff for the 2023 calendar year. In order to qualify an employee would have had to work a total of 300 hours in the dedicated position, as scheduled over the 10-week peak season, between May 1 and August 31.
According to Mayor Bob Nelson, the Evans Plunge bonuses were placed on the Feb. 22 agenda as a renewal item, despite the council already voting down the measure at the Dec. 19, 2022, meeting, because after the original vote, a member of the council expressed a desire to revote on the item after remembering the bonuses had already been discussed in the budget meetings and included in the facility manager’s planned budget. Since the budget was unanimously approved by the council, Mayor Nelson and several councilmembers then agreed it appropriate to revisit the agenda item.
Mayor Nelson did not identify the councilmember who requested a revote, but Councilman Larry Pratt later identified himself as the person who wanted to revote when he said he had changed his mind yet again and said he now feels he “over-thought” the situation and reverted back to his original thought of thinking it was unfair to give bonuses to Evans Plunge employees, and not other city employees.
After hearing of Pratt’s plans to not change his vote, Mayor Nelson apologized to the rest of the council for adding it back onto the agenda at Pratt’s previously indicated request. The motion ultimately failed by a 4-3 vote. When it first came up at the Dec. 19, 2022, it failed as well, following a tie 4-4 vote, which included a favorable vote from Melanie Wilson, who is no longer on the council due to moving outside of the city limits.
Supporters of the bonuses – which included Bill Lukens, Deb Johnston and J.R. Huddleston – said the bonus system had proven successful as a way to retain employees longer during the summer peak season and allowed Evans Plunge to remain open more often, and in turn generate income for the city. Opponents of the bonuses – which in addition to Pratt included Craig Romey, Dave Burris and Linda Varvel – stated their primary opposition was due to it not being fair to other city employees.