4 Suspects Arrested in Happy Jack Caper That Long Went Unreported

Times Staff Writer

As heists go, the Happy Jack caper was not that big, just a little unusual.

In all, about 1,000 pounds of charcoal, an undetermined amount of firewood and a portable generator valued at $2,400 were taken from Happy Jack Co. in El Segundo, which makes self-starting charcoal.

The suspects--four city employees--and their arrest more than 1 1/2 years after the crime, are also a bit unusual.

Sal Chala, the company's president, didn't even bother to report the thefts to police--even though he was contacted two weeks after they occurred by a person who said he had witnessed the rip-offs.

"By that time I felt the guys would be long gone with the stuff and they'd never catch them," Chala said.

But after some friendly persuasion by a retired policeman who stopped by the company to buy some firewood, Chala did file a police report--about 19 months after the theft. As a result, three current city employees assigned to the Public Works Department and one former city employee have each been charged with one count of second-degree burglary.

The suspects, all of whom have pleaded not guilty, face a preliminary hearing Tuesday in Inglewood Municipal Court.

Police identified the suspects as George W. Cook, Craig R. Judd and Robert E. Jordan. All have been suspended from their jobs without pay. The former employee, who has since moved out of state, was identified as David C. Young. He returned voluntarily.

None of the goods taken during the daylight burglaries have been recovered, Brenner said. For Happy Jack, that has deprived its corporate offices--a 35-foot trailer--of electricity. The purloined portable generator was the trailer's only source of power, and the company has not bought a new one.

Chala said that there are no city power lines leading to the area where the trailer sits--a situation that he has been trying to get El Segundo officials to rectify. The company relies on a wood-burning stove for heat.

"You might say we are traditionalists," he said.

El Segundo police Sgt. Tim Brenner said the suspects were identified by the witness through Public Works Department photographs. The pictures were posted so workers could get to know one another.

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