The Columbus trio allegedly busted with nearly $40,000 worth of stolen fireworks from Phantom Fireworks had ties to drug trafficking, according to law enforcement agencies working on the case.
Daniel J. Forsythe, 38, Brittany N. Messer, 26, and Richard D. P. Coverdale, 25, were named as the suspects responsible for stealing $37,734.70 worth of fireworks from the store in Bloomingburg in 2016.
Forensic analysis of about 12 cell phones seized in a search this year by the Hilliard Division of Police allegedly revealed more than 400 text messages and photos of stolen property, drugs, trafficking, weapons and money. One photo allegedly featured Coverdale and another male holding a pistol and a rifle similar to an AR-15, reports said.
Coverdale appeared in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas last week and plead guilty to grand theft, a fourth-degree felony, and breaking and entering, a fifth-degree felony. He was sentenced Sept. 21 to one year in prison and is now incarcerated.
Messer and Forsythe appeared in court last week. Messer plead guilty to charges of grand theft, a fourth-degree felony, and breaking and entering, a fifth-degree felony. Her sentencing is scheduled Oct. 30.
Forsythe appeared for arraignment in court on the same charges and entered a not guilty plea. A public defense attorney was appointed to represent Forsythe.
The break-in and theft at Phantom Fireworks was reported in the early morning hours of June 24, 2016 to the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office.
The alleged theft was from a semitrailer parked within a fenced area at Phantom Fireworks in Bloomingburg, reports said. The suspects cut the chain link fence to gain access to the semitrailer and then cut a hole into the side of the trailer with a reciprocating saw to gain access to and remove an estimated 169 boxes of consumer-grade fireworks, reports said.
Surveillance video from Phantom Fireworks and a nearby Sunoco gas station allegedly showed a “suspicious semitrailer” exiting I-71 from the south and parking on the northbound exit ramp at 12:51 a.m.
Reports said a white 1999 Ford Expedition entered the store parking lot at 1:31 a.m. and departed at 1:34 a.m., then parked in front of the semitrailer at the northbound exit ramp.
The Ford Expedition allegedly entered the store parking lot again at 3:17 a.m. and departed at 3:19 a.m.
At 5:09 a.m., the white Ford Explorer and a green 2000 Mercedes ML allegedly drove into the parking lot of the store, departed at 5:14 a.m. and left on the northbound ramp of I-71.
The Ohio Strategic Analysis and Information Center sent out a release June 27, 2016 to law enforcement agencies notifying them of the fireworks theft, and stated the fireworks were stolen in a “very organized and pre-planned fashion,” and that “Investigators are concerned with the level of pre-planning and have received information that additional incidents have taken place in both Pennsylvania and Florida.”
Additionally, the report stated, “a similar robbery attempt was made earlier last week at the Chillicothe Fireworks store at US 23 and SE 207 just north of Chillicothe.” The Ohio Department of Commerce also issued a press release June 29, 2016 offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification of the suspects.
Coverdale was the subject of an investigation by the Columbus Police Department for burglaries in the central Ohio area since March of 2016, reports stated. Allegedly also a suspect in a drug investigation, the Franklin County Municipal Court issued the Hilliard Division of Police a search warrant for Coverdale’s residence at 5731 Joshua Place, Galloway, court documents state.
The search was conducted in tandem with the Columbus Police Department July 1, 2016.
Boxes of fireworks from Phantom Fireworks were allegedly located inside the Joshua Place apartment, and the Ohio Division of State Fire Marshal Fire, Explosions and Investigations Bureau, and the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office were notified that fireworks had turned up during the execution of the drug search warrant at Coverdale’s apartment, reports said.
After learning the names of the individuals at the residence during the search, detectives were able to match the vehicle registrations to the Ford Expedition and Mercedes ML parked outside to Coverdale, reports said, and then matched those vehicles to the vehicles seen on video at Phantom Fireworks.
The Ohio Fire Marshal seized the fireworks in the apartment with more allegedly found in the vehicles, reports said.
In a report from a detective at the Hilliard Division of Police, about 12 phones were seized during the search at Coverdale’s apartment and were forensically analyzed.
In total there were 169 boxes of fireworks seized at the Joshua Place residence by the Ohio Fire Marshal along with miscellaneous packs, tubes and shells.
Forsythe, who will appear in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas Oct. 16 with his defense attorney, Susan Wollscheid, is currently held in the Franklin County Jail pending an active court case for robbery, according to records, and has been ordered to be extradited to the Knox County Jail in Mt. Vernon for a case filed in the Knox County Court of Common Pleas for felonious breaking and entering and complicity in the commission of breaking and entering.
Reach Ashley by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by searching Twitter.com for @ashbunton