Protect, Serve And Sell T-Shirts.
August 11, 2008
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
A San Luis Obispo police officer peddles custom imprinted T-shirts, sometimes while on duty, as a federal bankruptcy court considers his twin Chapter 7 petitions.
Officer Christopher Charles Chitty apparently runs the cash business from the home he shares with his wife, Lisa Solomon, Paso Robles’ chief of police.
Chitty said Sunday that the business, Trick Tape, no longer exists. An investigation by UncoveredSLO.com suggests otherwise.
The pair filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition in May for a business they jointly owned called Sign Sensations Inc., a promotional printing company. Chitty subsequently filed for individual protection July 17 in Santa Barbara’s U.S. District Court. In court documents, Chitty and Solomon listed debt totaling $1,039,182; assets of $512,000; and $550 in available cash.
Monthly expenses were reported to be $13,991, including $800 for entertainment and $2,792 for transportation and vehicle costs.
Solomon manages a $10 million police department budget.
None of the documents provided to the court in either action by Chitty and his wife mention an ongoing business called Trick Tape.
Shortly after the couple launched Trick Tape in 2004, they added T-shirt printing and a new name, Sign Sensations.
Within two years, though, Sign Sensations was allegedly in financial difficulties and near its end. According to a recent memorandum from Solomon to her officers, “…the business was too young and hit too hard by the downturn in real estate and local development… to be able to hang on in this recession.”
The memo, a copy of which was provided to UncoveredSLO.com, noted the chief and her husband then “closed up shop, but the business had significant debt in equipment and inventory.”
By this time, though, Sign Sensations already had been resurrected, again as Trick Tape.
In January 2007, a listing for Trick Tape was added to an online local business directory, iBegin.com. The listing provides a number for a cell phone which is answered by Chitty. A business location currently mentioned in the listing is in an undeveloped area near Union and Kleck roads in Paso Robles. The Trick Tape Web site was most recently updated in July 2007.
Since folding Sign Sensations, Chitty has been re-hired as an officer for the San Luis Obispo Police Department, where he worked in a similar capacity prior to his unsuccessful stint in business.
Contacted on his cell phone Saturday by a reporter posing as a customer seeking information about volume T-shirt sales, Chitty said, “Yes, this is Trick Tape. I can help you with those.” During the course of a conversation, Chitty suggested that design proofs be sent to email@example.com.
Later that same evening, at 7:35 p.m., Chitty placed a call to the reporter to discuss further details of a sale, including pricing and specific T-shirt brands.
According to a San Luis Obispo police dispatcher, Chitty had gone on duty at 6 p.m. Chitty was said to be “out of the office, probably in the field” when a reporter asked to talk to him.
“Your public safety dollars hard at work,” commented one San Luis Obispo Police Department source familiar with Chitty’s actions.
Asked Sunday if he ever conducted a private T-shirt business while on duty as a San Luis Obispo police officer, Chitty said, “I have no comment.”
Around six months ago, Chitty applied to the San Luis Obispo Police Department. Openings for police officer jobs are competitive, with applicants selected after intensive hiring reviews.
Uniformity in hiring standards for police departments was the state legislature’s intent in 1959 when it authorized the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to “select minimum selection and training standards.” Applicants for peace officer jobs undergo background checks that include in-depth credit checks.
“The department did a thorough background check [on Chitty] with a polygraph, credit check, and fingerprinting,” said San Luis Obispo Police Capt. Dan Blanke. “It doesn’t mean someone has to have perfect credit,” Blanke responded when asked if Chitty’s credit and litigation problems raised a red flag. “We are pleased to have him back working with us.”
Blanke said the background check “was sent to POST for a thorough review.”
Gary Manini, a POST law enforcement consultant, said that police departments do not send background check results to the commission for a critique.
“We do random visits and review hires. We don’t look at backgrounds except for automatic disqualifiers,” Manino said.
“You better write the truth,” Blanke told a reporter. “They dotted all their ‘i’s and crossed all their ‘t’s, and if you write that the hiring was due to a favor between chiefs without the usual background review, Chief (Deb) Linden said to me in an earlier conversation that she will use the full extent of the law to go after you.”
Linden chairs the POST commission.
POST’s manual states, “The purpose of the background investigation is to verify the absence of past behavior indicative of unsuitability to perform the duties of a peace officer or public safety dispatcher. The candidate’s credit records determine credit standing with lenders as an indication of the candidate’s dependability and integrity.”
Chapter 7 is designed for debtors in financial trouble who do not have the ability to pay their existing debts, according to the bankruptcy code. Debtors whose financial difficulties are primarily due to consumer debt are subject to a “means test” — if income is greater than the median income for the state in which they reside, the court may deny the petition.
In California, the median income, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was $74,801 in 2006 for a family of four. Chitty and his wife’s combined income is approximately $220,000 per year, according to their sworn statements on the bankruptcy petitions. Chitty and Solomon have stated in court documents that their “debts are primarily business debts” and that no inventory from the business remains.
Those court documents also assert the pair has “50 to 100” creditors including Kohl’s, Mervyns, and Gottschalk’s. Levitz Furniture is owed $13,119; Chitty and Solomon claim their household goods and furnishings are worth approximately $3,000.
About $20,000 in sales taxes remains in arrears. Four different creditors have filed lawsuits against the couple in the past few years. In two of the lawsuits, the court sided with plaintiffs. The other two remained active at the time of the most current bankruptcy filing.
Tags:, bankruptcy, chief of police, chitty, paso robles, solomon