Tilton police detective brokered sale of credit card to one of his relatives

TILTON — A credit card stolen from a local man ended up in the hands of a close relative of a Tilton police detective who has since been placed on a long paid leave of absence.

According to documents obtained by The Daily Sun, Det. Cpl. Matthew Dawson said in an interview with the Merrimack County Sheriff's Department that he had no idea the card was stolen when he allegedly arranged for his "uncle" to buy it for a fraction of its retail value.

The story of the credit card began on June 8, 2013 when Tilton Patrol Officer Andrew Salmon responded to Clark Road to investigate the theft of a $2,000 rebate card from Lowe's Home Improvement store.

The owner of the card had gotten it as the result of making a purchase at Lowe's for a home restoration project. The owner described it as a rebate card that was issued by Lowe's but was backed by a major credit card company and could have been used anywhere. Unlike store credit — a rebate card can be traced, he said.

Salmon contacted the loss prevention officer at Lowe's who gave him the dates, amounts and transaction numbers associated with the stolen rebate card. Surveillance tapes from the Tilton Lowe's store showed an man buying two vent filters and the loss prevention officer's told Salmon that it was his understanding that the same card was used to make a $1,900 purchase of building materials at the Lowe's store in Littleton.

On June 13, Salmon got the store video and interviewed the contractor who was hired to do the work at the home from where the card was stolen. Salmon showed the surveillance photos to the contractor who was unable to identify the man using the card.

As part of the investigation into the theft of the card, Salmon was later interviewed by Merrimack County Sheriff's Department investigators who told them that after he spoke to the contractor he went into his police squad room to add the interview to his report.

Salmon said that while he was in the squad room, Dawson came in.

Salmon's narrative said he "figured he would ask Dawson if he could ID the male subject" from the Lowes surveillance footage and Dawson identified him right away as his relative.

"Dawson then stated that his relative had obtained the card from Fast Cash," Salmon said.

Fast Cash is a pawn shop on Laconia Road in Tilton.

When Salmon said he said he would call Fast Cash and see who sold them the card purchased by Dawson's relative, he told investigators that Dawson balked and told him Fast Cash would "not have the info".

Salmon said he thought Dawson's retraction was "odd" and said that was when Dawson began telling him his version of the story.

According to Salmon's report,  Dawson told him one of his confidential informants (C.I.) had contacted him and wanted to know if he knew anyone who could use a $2,000 Lowe's card.

"Dawson stated he asked the C.I. if the card was 'legit' which he was told 'it was,'" reported Salmon, noting that Dawson told him he then called his uncle and told him to meet the C.I. at Lowe's parking lot and buy the card for $500.

Dawson apparently told his relative to use the card for a small amount to make sure it was valid before he gave the C.I. any money. He described the items his uncle purchased at the Tilton Lowe's and Salmon said they were consistent with what he learned from the loss prevention manager.

When Salmon asked about the $1,900 transaction in Littleton, Dawson allegedly said he personally placed that order and got an additional employee discount from a employee he knows in Littleton. Dawson told Salmon that he used his own personal credit card to cover the amount over the balance left on the card for the purchase. The materials were dropped at a site Dawson was working at in the Littleton area.

Salmon reported he ended the conversation with Dawson after Dawson said he was going to call the C.I. and speak with him about the card.

Salmon said about two hours later Dawson told him who his C.I. got the card from. Dawson said the C.I. was going to try and get the guy who stole the card to talk to the victim about making him whole.

Salmon filed his report with Tilton Lt. Ryan Martin at 6 p.m. on June 17.

The Merrimack County Sheriff's Department began an investigation that month into the matter of the stolen credit card after learning that the Belknap County Sheriff's Department felt there could be a potential conflict if it was to conduct the investigation.

As part of an interview conducted on June 27, Dawson told the Merrimack County investigators the same story he told Salmon. The investigators also told Dawson the investigation was only about the theft of the credit card and was not an internal investigation about him.

Dawson told the investigators that the C.I. was one he knew fairly well and he was trying to protect his identity.

Dawson admitted to the investigator that he initially lied to Salmon because "when you tell people certain things (about informants), word gets out, and this is, you know... and then everything goes to (explicative) from there.

Merrimack County investigators pressed Dawson about his lie to Salmon and questioned him exhaustively about whether he told Salmon the truth before he met with his lieutenant or after he met with him. Dawson said it was before he met with his lieutenant, which is consistent with what Salmon told them.

Investigators also questioned Dawson about how much money his uncle paid for the card and learned it was $600.

One investigator said a $2,000 card selling for $600 "would raise red flags for me saying, why is he letting this sucker go that low?"

"Yeah I know what the law is, known or should have known that it was stolen," Dawson replied, saying the C.I. repeatedly told him that the card was "legit" and even after he confronted him, the C.I. told him he never would have knowingly sold a police officer a stolen card.

Speaking on background, a long-time New Hampshire police supervisor who is not affiliated with Tilton or the Merrimack or Belknap County Sheriff's Department, explained that criminal investigations and internal investigations are two entirely different things.

He said that a criminal investigation is held by an independent policing authority and, depending on the circumstances, an internal investigation could be done at the same time as a criminal investigation or after it.

He gave an officer-involved shooting as an example. The actual shooting is investigated as a crime by the N.H. Attorney General's Office. If the AG determines the shooting was justified and no crime was committed, then the department that employs the officer conducts its own investigation to see if its own rules were violated.

If they weren't, then everything goes back to normal. If the department's own rules were violated, he said the punishment can range from an oral reprimand all the way up to dismissal. He said the officer would likely be on a paid administrative leave for the duration of both investigations.

It does not appear Dawson was the target of the Merrimack County Sheriffs Department criminal investigation. He didn't steal the card.

Richard H. Miner, 38, formerly of Northfield, was indicted by a Grafton County grand jury two months ago for allegedly stealing the rebate card. The case has been assigned a Belknap County docket number and he has been arraigned.

If there was an internal investigation of Dawson's behavior, The Sun doesn't know about it. Personnel records in New Hampshire are private and not subject to Right-To-Know requests.

Dawson was placed on leave in November 2013. His status remains the same today.

It is not known if there is a direct connection between the use of the stolen credit card and Dawson's leave.

Chairman Pat Consentino said the Selectboard took up the subject of Dawson's status in April but declined to comment further, saying it is a personnel matter. She said Selectman Katherine Dawson, who is Matt Dawson's aunt, recused herself from participating in the meeting.

As of yesterday, Dawson is being paid $30.58 per hour. He has not been at work since early November.