Manheim Borough police on Sunday used an electronic tracking device to locate two stolen campaign signs belonging to Steve Black, Republican candidate for state representative in the 37th Legislative District.
Chief Joseph Stauffer said a 14-year-old boy, who lives at a house in the 200 block of North Linden Street where the signs were found, admitted to taking three signs belonging to Black.
"He said it was just a prank," Stauffer said.
The boy will be charged with theft and receiving stolen property, Stauffer said.
Black's campaign spokesman, Jason Ercole, said it is no coincidence the teen is the son of a neighbor and supporter of Mindy Fee, who is challenging Black in Tuesday's Republican primary election. Barry McFarland also is a candidate for the nomination.
Fee lives in the 100 block of North Linden Street.
"Dirty tricks like this by our opponents' campaign supporters may be common in places like Philadelphia, but should give every voter pause as they decide for whom to vote," Ercole said.
Fee's campaign manager, Manheim Borough Councilman Chris Simon, denied any involvement by Fee or her campaign in the thefts.
"This was just a juvenile prank," he said. "He took the signs as a prank in the neighborhood where he lives."
In a separate but related matter, Stauffer said borough police are investigating a complaint that one of the Black campaign signs the teen stole was placed on a Grant Street property without the owner's permission.
According to Ercole, Black has had hundreds of campaign signs stolen from throughout the 37th district since early April.
Tired of the thefts, Ercole said the campaign placed small tracking devices on several signs.
Ercole said they are simple devices commonly used to locate laptop computers and other electronics in case they are stolen.
Two signs in Manheim that had tracking devices on them went missing over the weekend, Ercole said.
Campaign staff members, before they called police, used an electronic receiver to track down the missing signs late Saturday night.
Stauffer said police Officer Michael Holzer called him Sunday morning after Black's campaign staff reported the incident to police.
Stauffer then contacted Det. Vincent Arzamendi.
Armed with a receiver provided by the Black campaign, Stauffer, Holzer and Arzamendi went to the area of North Linden Street and tracked the signs to the back yard of a home in the 200 block.
"The receiver gives off different beeps for when you're getting close or moving away from what you're looking for," Stauffer said. "I'm familiar with GPS-tracking equipment and stuff the federal government uses, but I've never worked with anything like this before."
Stauffer said the signs were valued at $3 each. The tracking devices each cost about $125.
Stauffer said when police spoke to the people who own the home where the signs were found, the 14-year-old boy "immediately confessed that he took them."
The boy and his parents went with the officers to the police station, where Stauffer said the boy gave a written statement confessing to taking three signs.
"We know the election is Tuesday, and so we wanted to act quickly when we received this report so there would be no question about us being biased," Stauffer said.
Late Sunday night, the chief said he received a report from the owner of a property on Grant Street, where one of the Black campaign signs was stolen, that the sign was placed on his property without his permission.
Stauffer said he planned to look into that complaint today.
Ercole said he did not know where the sign had been posted before it was stolen.
"We try hard to make sure this doesn't happen, but I can tell you, no one has called our office and complained about the placement of any of our signs," he said. "If someone had called us and complained about any sign, we would have removed it."