GARY — A city transit employee faces numerous felony charges after he allegedly pawned at least $17,000 worth of city-purchased equipment for personal gain.
Dante Wesley Pickett, 25, of Merrillville, was charged Thursday in Lake Superior Court with corrupt business influence, a Level 5 felony, and official misconduct, a Level 6 felony, court records show.
He also was charged in a separate case in March with felony theft and forgery in relation to his employment for the Gary Public Transportation Corp.
Pickett was hired in May 2018 by the city's transit authority as a clerk in the parts department and was fired this past February, court records show.
In the latest case, Clay Cates, director of grants, procurement and oversight for GPTC, told detectives Pickett's duties included maintaining an inventory of parts and ordering parts when authorized.
During the course of his employment, it was discovered Pickett used his GPTC-issued credit card between Aug. 29, 2018, through February 16, 2019, to make 35 unauthorized store purchases totaling $16,695 from stores including Menard's in Merrillville and Griffith; Ace Hardware in Gary; Broadway Auto Parts in Gary; Napa Auto Parts in Gary; Fastenal Co. in New Chicago; and Grainger in Gary, court records show.
A detective's check of a law enforcement database and visits to pawn shops allegedly revealed Pickett pawned the items at shops in Highland, Merrillville, Gary, Lake Station, Portage, Hammond, East Chicago, Burns Harbor and Calumet City.
Pickett allegedly admitted to police he ordered the parts without approval and took them to pawn shops throughout Lake and Porter counties for money.
He said he did this to pay for things such as "partying with friends, buying personal items, pay bills, etc," police allege.
Pickett said he planned to return to the pawn shops and buy back the items so they wouldn't appear on GPTC's next bill, according to police.
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The defendant said he had been living "paycheck to paycheck" and "just wanted to keep up with his friends, and he found it easy to do it this way, but he got in over his head," court records state.
Pickett previously was charged in March after it was discovered he purchased $2,951.52 worth of power tools from Fastenal Co., 1601 W. 37th Ave., and charged it to an open account under Gary's transit authority.
The business manager for Fastenal told detectives Pickett completed the transactions by signing purchase orders purportedly on behalf of GPTC. The manager said he learned GPTC declined to pay for the merchandise because Pickett was no longer employed there.
Detectives entered Pickett's name in the law enforcement LEADS online database to find Pickett allegedly made $4,315 from local pawn shops between January 2018 and March 2019, mostly by pawning tools, court records show.
Cates told police Pickett stopped coming to work without reason around this time.
Although Pickett was still employed when he made the unauthorized purchases at Fastenal between Feb. 21 and 28, he was "promptly terminated" after the discovery was made, court records show.
It's not the first time this week Gary city employees have made headlines for alleged theft.
Earlier this week, a former Gary official pleaded guilty to stealing $12,727 from the financially troubled Genesis Convention Center.
Victoria Wilson, 52, of Portage, was charged with felony theft in U.S. District Court. Wilson was a bookkeeper for the center.