Police: SS Storm Chase co-founder defrauded bank of $5,300 before Hurricane Florence trip
A York County storm chaser is accused of defrauding a bank of thousands of dollars just before leaving to cover Hurricane Florence in North Carolina last month, according to authorities.
On Wednesday, Oct. 10, state police filed charges alleging that Brad Matthew Sweitzer Sr. deposited a $5,300 business check at an East Prospect BB&T Bank branch on Sept. 7 but that days later that check bounced.
Sweitzer said Thursday afternoon that the check was not from a business — it was a personal check — and that it had nothing to do with SS Storm Chase.
Police said the account the check was written from had been closed, but that wasn't known until after Sweitzer withdrew the money from BB&T Bank.
Charging documents state that Sweitzer knew the account was closed, but on Thursday he said he didn't know why police thought he knew that.
Sweitzer, 41, is a member of the SS Storm Chase and Forecast Team. That team's Facebook page has nearly 200,000 likes.
Sweitzer, of the first block of Creekside Drive in East Prospect, is charged with theft by deception, a third-degree felony, and bad checks, a misdemeanor.
Charges: Court documents state Sweitzer went to the BB&T Bank at 1 S. Main St. at about 6 p.m. Sept. 7. While there, he explained to the branch manager that he was heading to North Carolina on Sept. 8 and needed a check cleared, officials said.
The manager knew Sweitzer as a member of the storm chase team, and he also knew Sweitzer would be covering the hurricane in North Carolina, charging documents state.
Police say Sweitzer had a business check made out to him for $5,300 from Northwest Savings Bank, and that Sweitzer needed the check to be cleared before he left for North Carolina.
There was an agreement made that the funds would be available on Sept. 8 and that Sweitzer would return that morning to retrieve $3,000, officials said.
However, the next morning Sweitzer went to the a BB&T Bank branch in Springettsbury Township, withdrew $3,000, and wired the other $2,300 out of the account, police said.
On Sept. 10, BB&T Bank was informed that the Northwest Savings Bank account that the check had been written from had been closed, and the check Sweitzer gave to BB&T Bank had bounced, court documents state.
The theft, officials said, wasn't reported until Oct. 5.
SS Storm Chasing: Sweitzer co-founded Red Lion-based SS Storm Chase and Forecasting Team in 2013, he has told The York Dispatch.
As a storm approached in early 2016, SS Storm Chase showed models anticipating 2 to 3 feet of snow. Their models ended up being close to the actual snowfall amounts.
Most recently, Sweitzer and the team were stuck in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence.
The SS Storm Chase team arrived in Wilmington late the night of Sept. 12 and stayed up all night monitoring the progression of the storm. They got a few winks of sleep the afternoon of Sept. 13, but by 4:30 p.m. they were getting ready to go back into the storm, Sweitzer told The York Dispatch at the time.
Sweitzer said the team put in hours of preparation in order to make the trip as safe and successful as possible.
"If it wasn’t for all the help and stuff in the background, there’s no way we could be out here doing this because there’s a high risk of injury and death," he said. "We’re out here doing this at our own risk, and we know that going into this."
Sweitzer planned to be back in the northeast by the evening of Sept. 16, but he was still driving through Goldsboro, North Carolina, that night, he said at the time.
The SS team covered Hurricane Irma when it hit Florida in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew when it hit the Carolinas in 2016.
Sweitzer said it can be frustrating when people criticize the team's work and question why anyone would want to go into the middle of a dangerous storm. He claimed the team often ends up helping with rescue operations when they cover a major event and said one of their goals is to be there as a resource for folks who are stranded.
"Our passion is to try to help the community and save lives," Sweitzer said.
Sweitzer was arraigned at the county's central booking unit Wednesday night. He was released after posting $10,000 bail, according to the York County Sheriff's Office.
His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 24 at District Judge John H. Fishel's office.
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @YDDornblaser.