Chief Says Landlord Probe Just Beginning

Gazette Senior Writer

A well-known electrician is now the subject of a widening police investigation into whether he broke the law when he allegedly secretly videotaped a female tenant while she was in the bathroom.

Richard Lehman admitted to Tisbury police on June 27 that he had installed a camera in the woman's bathroom so he could watch her taking a shower, police said. The woman rents a home from Mr. Lehman on Franklin street in Vineyard Haven.

Mr. Lehman made the admission in a written statement that he gave to the police. In the statement, Mr. Lehman said he had installed the camera in the bathroom one day earlier.

The tenant, a single mother with two children aged 12 and 16, called police on June 26 after her son discovered the camera in a heating vent in the bathroom.

Mr. Lehman, 50, is a longtime Vineyard resident and established electrical contractor. He is also the wiring inspector for the town of Aquinnah and the assistant wiring inspector for the town of Chilmark. He lives in Vineyard Haven and owns property on Franklin street, where he keeps his business office and also operates a rental home.

Mr. Lehman has not been arrested or charged with any crime, and police said this week that it may be months before the investigation is complete. Covertly videotaping a person is not a crime, but the investigation will examine whether other laws were broken, including breaking and entering, trespassing, disorderly conduct and privacy laws.

Information about Mr. Lehman's alleged peeping activities began to trickle in last week after Tisbury police executed a series of search warrants in connection with the investigation.

According to police reports, Mr. Lehman at first denied any knowledge about the camera device, but then changed his story and said he had installed the camera ten years ago to watch a female tenant. Mr. Lehman told police that he would watch a video feed on a television inside his garage with friends.

An affidavit filed by officer Mark E. Stanton last Friday reported that Mr. Lehman had given a written statement saying that he had installed the camera in his latest tenant's bathroom in order to watch her taking a shower. The statement was prepared for Michael Marchand, another Tisbury police officer.

Tisbury police chief Theodore Saulnier said yesterday that a large quantity of computer and other media equipment seized from Mr. Lehman has been turned over to the Massachusetts state police crime laboratory in New Braintree. The crime laboratory specializes in computer forensics.

The equipment was seized from Mr. Lehman's Vineyard Haven house and two garages situated nearby. Separate search warrants were required in order for police to search the contents of the computers and other various electronic equipment. A total of 11 search warrants were executed in the end.

The chief said he expects the investigation to take a considerable amount of time, possibly months, in part because of the need to examine so much electronic material and also because the state police crime laboratory is backed up with work.

"If you look at what we have seized, we have looked at less than five per cent and it's going to take some time to do all of this," the chief said. He added:

"It could take months - it's all dependent on the speed with which the state police crime lab can look things over. They are a small unit that's very busy and it may take a long time to look over our evidence and completely execute the search warrants. It's time consuming what they do and we're sending them several computers."

The seized equipment includes five computers and a wide variety of cameras including digital cameras, video cameras and wireless cameras, some equipped with night vision.

Police also seized a number of microphones with headsets, more than 150 floppy disks, more than 20 homemade VHS tapes plus eight-millimeter tapes and pre-recorded adult movies.

Chief Saulnier said the investigation has only just begun.

Mr. Lehman has been a landlord for a number of years and last week reports surfaced that at least eight past tenants had consulted with a Vineyard Haven attorney about some kind of possible civil action.

Geoghan Coogan, a young attorney who recently took over the practice owned by his late father, Edmond G. Coogan, told the Boston Herald that he have been in contact with Mr. Lehman's tenants dating back to 1991. Mr. Coogan could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Brien Hefler contributed to this report.