Thursday, January 06, 2000

Cheating alleged at E-Check site


Police say $20 could make bad test go away

BY JANET C. WETZEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        MIDDLETOWN — When a Middletown man took his old pickup for an E-Check, he expected it to fail the emissions test. But he was surprised at being offered a chance to have it passed, he said — for an extra $20.

        In connection with this, testing employee Palmer Debusk III, 20, of the 1700 block of Sheffield Street, has been charged with tampering with records, a third-degree felony because a government record is involved. He was arraigned Tuesday and is scheduled for a preliminary hearing Jan. 12 in Middletown Municipal Court.

        The investigation is continu ing, and other arrests may result, said Middletown Police Detective John Magill.

        Mr. Debusk was arrested at Envirotest on Lefferson Road on Monday. Conviction carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $15,000 fine, Detective Magill said.

        Mr. Debusk has also been suspended from his job at Envirotest Systems Corp. pending completion of the investigation.

        The case began Dec. 31 when a truck owned by Kenneth Riley of Middletown failed the Ohio E-Check test, Detective Magill said.

        “Then someone there said, "Bring in a car that will pass, bring in paperwork for the truck, and we'll switch the numbers around for $20.' He came to the police department instead,” Detective Magill said. “He agreed to cooperate with us.”

        Mr. Riley, who could not be reached for comment Wednes day, took an unmarked police car to Envirotest and police set up surveillance, said Detective Magill.

        Mr. Debusk was not the employee who initially offered to pass the truck for $20, police said. But he asked Mr. Riley what price was agreed upon, Detective Magill said. Upon learning the amount, Mr. Debusk agreed, and asked for the papers on the truck, police said.

        Mr. Riley walked out with approved E-Check papers for the truck, police said.

        Middletown police notified the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which has jurisdiction over such cases. Neither Mr. Debusk nor Jennifer Batliner, who is listed as his attorney in court records, could be reached for comment.

        Detective Magill said investigation into apparent involvement by at least one other employee is continuing.

        Police have had sporadic complaints in recent months about alleged illegal activity at Envirotest, he said. “But this is the first time we've had someone actually come forward and pinpoint someone.” Company officials have cooperated fully, he said.

        Steve Milburn, regional public relations manager with Envirotest, which has contracted with the state for E-Checks for four years, said Mr. Debusk has been a vehicle inspector there about three months.

        Mr. Milburn said despite screening and extensive training, there are occasional problems among the more than 700 employees at the 14 inspection stations in Ohio.

        Heidi Griesmer, spokeswoman for the public interest center of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, said there have been only a few such cases since the Ohio E-Check program began four years ago.

       



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