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Local officials say that for several months, they had been keeping a watchful eye of their own on a Hilton Head Island man arrested last week on voyeurism and burglary charges.'
But unknowingly, an island community's security office had what may be a key piece of evidence sitting in a lost-and-found box for months.'
John Thomas Levy, 30, was arrested Oct. 7 and charged with two counts of first-degree burglary and one count of voyeurism in connection with two incidents this year and another in 1998.'
"We had Mr. Levy on very tight surveillance," said Hilton Head Plantation's general manager, Peter Kristian. "Our objective was to get him, to make sure he was apprehended and by the same token, make sure the community was protected."'
The Beaufort County Sheriff's Office said it confiscated at least two dozen videotapes while executing a search warrant at Levy's apartment in 1011 The Preserve at Indigo Run. Those tapes show dozens -- if not hundreds -- of instances of women of different ages, in various stages of undress and while bathing, apparently filmed without their knowledge in their homes, Sheriff P.J. Tanner said last week.'
One burglary charge against Levy stems from an Aug. 20, 1998, case in Hilton Head Plantation in which his fingerprint was matched to a crime scene. The other is an incident on July 4 of this year in which a woman in Hilton Head Plantation reported seeing a man in her hallway with a video camera after she got out of the shower to investigate strange noises, according to an incident report and a warrant.'
Tanner said the Sheriff's Office had considered Levy a suspect in unsolved burglary and voyeurism cases since before the summer. He would not specify why they considered him a suspect.'
Over the years, there had been reports of a Peeping Tom in Hilton Head Plantation. Some citizens even mentioned seeing someone holding a video camera.'
"One or two people said they thought that (an) individual was carrying a device, a camera or video camera, but I don't know if they could swear to that," Kristian said. "A lot of them were unsure" what the person had in hand.'
Prior to Levy's arrest, Hilton Head Plantation Security was reluctant to release information about the incidents for fear they would tip the voyeur off, which could prompt the destruction of evidence, according to Kristian.'
Levy once lived in the community at 13 Fernwood Trail, according to past arrest records. He has a property owner's decal that the security officer purposely didn't void so they could monitor him and not tip him off, Kristian said. The decals are good for two years and would have allowed access to Sea Pines during certain hours.'
The Plantation's security officers had their first encounter with him in March, 21, 2003, when he was arrested on a charge of public disorderly conduct, Kristian said.'
"He was exhibiting some bizarre characteristics on one of our bike paths," he said. "He was yelling obscenities at residents going by."'
Ten days later, he was arrested after a car chase, mostly within the speed limit, on westbound U.S. 278 in Bluffton and onto northbound Interstate 95. In September 2003, he was sentenced to one year of probation for the offense, according to records from the State Law Enforcement Division.'
But it wasn't until after a July 4 incident that security officers began to regard him as a potential suspect, Kristian said. In that case and another one earlier in the year, women in the gated community reported intruders in their homes.'
It was easy to spot Levy when he came to the community because his car had a distinctive racing stripe, Kristian said. When he did, all on-duty security personnel were alerted, he said.'
Levy also may have stood out physically. According to the Beaufort County Detention Center's online log, he measures only 4 feet, 11 inches tall.'
While trying not to give away any clues to Levy that he was a suspect, the community held two public meetings in July to tell residents to take precautions to lock their doors and windows. An August newsletter repeats the safety tips and makes reference to two recent buglaries at women's homes.'
Hilton Head Plantation is not the only place the Sheriff's Office thinks Levy was active. He has been charged with voyeurism in connection with taping a 15-year-old girl through the bedroom of her Sea Pines Plantation home on May 22 and 26 of this year.'
The sheriff said Tuesday that investigators still are reviewing the tapes, which number at least two dozen. Tanner would not say whether activity on the tapes extended to areas beyond Hilton Head Plantation and Sea Pines.'
"I'm not going to release any more information on the location" at this time, he said.'
A video camera found outside a Sea Pines home in May contained voyeuristic video footage of people in their homes, including the 15-year-old girl who Levy has been charged with filming, according to a Sheriff's Office incident report filed Oct. 1.'
But Sea Pines Security director George Breed said it wasn't until recently that his office reviewed the tape and saw the contents. It was one of a multitude of lost items turned in to the security office the during peak tourist season, Breed said, and they initially had no idea it would become part of a criminal investigation.'
"We saw portions of the video that spoke to possible crimes and contacted the Sheriff's Office at that time," he said. "At that point, it was obvious that this was not an average vacationer's tape."'
Levy's bond is set at $50,000 for the voyeurism charge, according to the jail log, but he must wait for a circuit court judge to set bond for the two burglary charges. Spokeswoman Debbie Szpanka said the Sheriff's Office has not been notified of a hearing date.'
Since the beginning of 2000, 38 Peeping Tom offenses have been reported in Beaufort County, including 23 on the island, Szpanka said. Those figures may not reflect similar incidents reported, like suspicious activity or prowlers, while other incidents may have gone unreported, she said.'
During the same period, Szpanka said 12 people have been charged with voyeurism, eight of them in connection with incidents on the island.