Police Study Landlord's Hidden Camera; Affidavit Lists Case for Search Warrant

By BRIEN HEFLER

Tisbury police are investigating whether an electrical contractor may have illegally videotaped tenants in a rented house after a hidden camera was found in a bathroom there on the morning of June 27.

Richard T. Lehman, 50, owns the property at 450 Franklin street, where a small camera was discovered by a tenant, who called the police after her son identified the device.

"[The tenant] told me she noticed something suspicious in the floor heat register in her bathroom," said Tisbury patrolman Michel Marchand in an affidavit filed in request for a search warrant. "She further stated that she pulled the object from the register and found it to be attached to the floor by a wire.

"[The tenant] stated that the angle that the camera was facing when she first touched it was that angle as would project a picture of whomever was using the toilet in the bathroom," the affidavit said.

According to Patrolman Marchand's affidavit, Mr. Lehman knocked on the door of the rental minutes after the camera was found, saying he needed to get into the basement to inspect the furnace. The tenant refused him entrance and called the police. Mr. Marchand found that the wire went through the bathroom floor and into the basement, where it ran along the bottom of floor joists and into a PVC conduit running outside to the north, toward a two-story garage, 40 to 50 feet away on adjacent property. The second story of the garage contains a rental apartment and Mr. Lehman's office.

Patrolman Marchand was advised by Tisbury police chief Ted Saulnier to secure the rental and adjacent property, including the garage and Mr. Lehman's house, at 460 Franklin street, to prevent the destruction of evidence.

Police said that when first questioned Mr. Lehman, the contractor, denied any knowledge, but then admitted that he had installed the device 10 years ago to watch a tenant but had disconnected it shortly thereafter.

"Within a few minutes Mr. Lehman told me he had installed the camera 10 years ago to secretly watch a prior female tenant. He stated that he and his friends would watch the tenant on a television inside his garage," states Patrolman Marchand's affidavit.

Mr. Lehman then showed the end of the conduit inside his garage and a bare wire.

"With this information and a little bit more we applied for a search warrant for the landlord's house and adjacent property to the right [450 and 470 Franklin street]," Chief Saulnier said, adding that the apartment above the garage was not searched in order to protect that tenant's privacy.

"We're only interested in what the landlord had exclusive control over, and we searched that."

Several warrants were issued and served.

Police seized a large quantity of video recording equipment, tapes, rewriteable CDs, floppy disks and computer equipment. In addition to the camera found in the bathroom, police seized several wireless cameras, some equipped with audio and/or night vision capabilities, a weatherproof security camera, two sonic "super ear" amplifier microphones with headsets, a miniature video camera with audio, spools of cable and both digital and analog cameras.

Police also seized more than 150 floppy disks, some in boxes; more than 20 homemade VHS tapes; a number of 8-millimeter tapes and 140 prerecorded adult movies.

No charges have been filed against Mr. Lehman, who serves as the assistant wiring inspector for Chilmark and the wiring inspector for Aquinnah. Chief Saulnier said it will be at least several days before police are able to examine all the recorded tapes and possibly longer for the computers and software, which were transported to the State Police Crime Lab in Braintree.

"Until our searches are complete, we won't have any idea of any potential charges. We have to find out what we have," Chief Saulnier said.

Under current Massachusetts state law, covertly videotaping someone without their consent is not illegal. Michael Trudeau, first assistant district attorney for the Cape and Islands District, said that a number of laws could have been violated in this case, however, depending on the content of the recordings and the recording method. If sound is present on any of the tapes, they would violate Massachusetts law chapter 272, section 99, which applies to unlawful audio recordings such as wiretaps. The law carries a sentence of up to five years in state prison or up to two and a half years in a house of correction.

Any minors filmed in a state of undress on the tapes would violate Massachusetts law chapter 272, section 29 A: posing a child in the nude, a felony with a sentence of up to 20 years and a substantial fine. Police said that the tenant in the house had two children, ages 10 and 12. The family has since left the house.

Depending on video content, disorderly conduct or Peeping Tom laws could also be violated. The laws can carry a sentence of up to six months in a house of correction or a fine.

Eight to 10 past tenants of Mr. Lehman's are consulting with a Vineyard Haven attorney, Geoghan Coogan, about their rights and possible civil action. Mr. Coogan, of the Edmond G. Coogan law office, is working with Brian Mone, of Mone D'ambrose and Hanyen in Brockton and has met with tenants.

Mr. Coogan did not want to comment on any possible actions until the police investigation progresses:

Mr. Lehman could not be reached for comment by the Gazette.