Firefighter faces theft charges

Malabar volunteer tried to sell department's tools, cops say

By Victor Thompson

MALABAR -- Brotherhood, the cornerstone of Malabar's 50-member volunteer fire department, was sorely tested Wednesday when one of the department's own faced charges of stealing and trying to sell department equipment.

Malabar volunteer firefighter David Spatafora was arraigned on four felony counts each for grand theft, trafficking in stolen property and false verification of ownership to a pawnbroker after he was arrested by Brevard County Sheriff's deputies at Malabar's fire station Tuesday night.

Judge William McCluan granted Spatafora a $3,000 cash surety bond and scheduled a July 11 court date after Spatafora admitted to the charges against him. He asked for a public defender.

Spatafora, who divorced his wife in May, told McCluan he had been in Brevard County for a year and a half. Malabar Fire Capt. Bryan Eriksen said the 26-year-old South Carolina native had been with the department for six months before an anonymous tip led the department to conduct an internal investigation.

The items appeared missing in a regular biweekly inspection of the department's equipment.

"I just feel bad for him if he felt he had to do this," Eriksen said. "The fire department, whether paid or volunteer, it's a brotherhood, it's your family."

Although Spatafora was charged on four counts of theft, Eriksen said the items that Spatafora took included two chainsaws and a reciprocator saw, which is used to cut through car frames to rescue victims of auto wrecks. The equipment, valued at $850, closely resembles hardware available at retail stores and was recovered by the firefighters Wednesday afternoon, officials said.

"I've never seen this happen in a department that I've worked for, but I've seen it in other departments," said Eriksen, a 13-year veteran firefighter, 12 with Malabar. "We don't need that kind of publicity."