WATERVILLE — Police are investigating the possible theft of about 2,000 gallons of aircraft fuel from the city-owned Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport.

City Engineer Greg Brown, who manages the airport, reported to police that fuel was missing from an airport fuel tank in late June.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said Wednesday that police have interviewed about a dozen current and former airport employees about the missing fuel. Brown provided police with sales receipts and other paperwork related to fuel sales during the time it was believed to have been taken, from May 2010 to January, Massey said.

“It certainly is a possible theft,” he said. “I would say that it’s probably leaning that way.”

Massey said the exact amount missing or what amounts were taken, and when, is difficult to determine because of poor accounting practices. After weeks of review and working with the city’s finance department, police still aren’t sure if the fuel was stolen or if the accounting practices are to blame for the discrepancy.

“We knew the starting gallons and we knew the ending gallons and there is a 2,000-gallon discrepancy in the sales receipts,” he said.

The airport has two above-ground fuel tanks, one that contains jet fuel and another that contains very high-octane gas used for aircraft, he said. The 2,000 gallons are missing from the high-octane gas tank.

Mayor Dana Sennett and City Manager Michael Roy both said they believe the fuel was stolen.

During the investigation, police found that no consistent process was used for fuel sales, Massey said.

Police asked the employees about recording fuel sales, about when it was sold, whether cash or credit was used and whether fuel could be charged, Massey said. They also were asked who was responsible for measuring the amount of oil left in the tank, he said.

“Sometimes slips were thrown on a desk,” he said. “It was very difficult to determine who was actually responsible to do what.”

He said police have a few more employees to interview and after that, Det. David Caron, who has been working on the case, Brown and Detective Sgt. Michael Benecke will review the information to determine where the investigation will go next.

Massey estimated the missing fuel sells for about $4 a gallon, so it’s worth about $8,000.

“Many of the employees had access to the tanks, obviously,” he said. “They needed to have access to them.”

Sennett said Wednesday that it appears someone stole fuel from the airport.

“We’ve been investigating it for two months now,” he said. “We informed the council that it was under investigation when this all started. Naturally, we’re concerned about this.”

He said fuel at the airport is kept under lock and key.

“It just goes to show in these times that people will stoop to anything to turn a profit or try to keep their lives going,” he said.

Roy also believes the fuel was stolen.

“It seems clear to some of us that fuel is missing and that’s what the police are trying to find out — how much and when,” Roy said. “If we find that there was a theft, it may be indicative of the city not putting enough attention into the operation up there. We weren’t built to be an airport manager.” He said the city began managing the airport when the fixed base operator left 10 years ago.

He said the city probably did not put the kind of resources it should have into the airport because the airport is a losing proposition.

The airport budget has two parts, he said — maintenance and operational costs as well as buying fuel and fee collection. The city pays $60,000 or $70,000 a year to maintain the airport and in a good year it can make $25,000, he said.

But in the fiscal year that ended June 30, the city spent more than $80,000 on maintenance and lost $38,000 on the fixed base operator side, resulting in about a $125,000 net loss, he said.

Sennett said that the lack of a good accounting system at the airport shows the need for a good operator there. Both he and Roy said the city is always looking for an operator.

He said the city intends to be more active in its search after the master plan is completed in January.

He said he does not think the missing fuel problem is Brown’s fault.

“I think that we should have had better controls in place at the airport and those should have been followed. But you can put all the controls you want in place and people can still steal money or goods if they’re determined to. If we find that fuel was stolen, I think it was stolen by people who knew how to get around controls that were in place.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

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