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Ex-sewer director indicted on embezzlement charge

February 19, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - The former director of the Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District was indicted Friday on one felony count of embezzlement, stemming from allegations that he used unauthorized credit cards to buy more than $31,000 worth of goods from area businesses, the prosecutor said. Walter "Walt" Sebert, 52, of 162 Noll Drive in Martinsburg, also was charged with 11 misdemeanor counts of possessing a counterfeit credit card. The credit cards were considered to be counterfeit because they were obtained for the sewer district without approval from the district's board of directors, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said. "The board knew nothing about them," Games-Neely said. Credit cards were obtained from Wal-Mart, OfficeMax, Borders, Staples, Advance Auto Parts, Southern States, 84 Lumber, Chevron, AT&T and Quarles Fuel Network, according to the indictment paperwork. Sebert allegedly made $31,608 in unauthorized purchases from April 2003 to May 2004. The items he purchased, including tools, furniture and shelving, were for his personal use, Games-Neely said. He is not charged with embezzling cash. "It's not a situation where we believe it's cash," she said. The alleged embezzlement showed up during an audit of the sewer district's finances, and prompted an investigation by West Virginia State Police, Games-Neely said. The indictment was a direct one - meaning that, unlike with most grand jury indictments, Sebert previously had not been charged. Sebert, whose phone number is unlisted, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, Kevin Mills, said that Sebert will plead innocent to all of the charges when he is arraigned next week. "He will vigorously contest the allegations against him" Mills said. "If that involves a closer examination of the (sewer district's) business practices, that's what he'll have to do." Mills alleged that the district has had a long-standing policy of not adhering to proper accounting procedures. "There's more to the Walt Sebert indictment than Walt Sebert," Mills said. He quoted an old adage that a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich, since only the prosecutor and police are allowed to present evidence. Neither defendants nor their attorneys are allowed to attend. "Now, they have to prove (the allegations) beyond a reasonable doubt," Mills said. John Kunkle, chairman of the sewer district's board of directors, said that Sebert was fired two days after the board learned of the financial audit, and that the matter was turned over to the prosecutor's office within days of Sebert's termination. No sewer bills of the district's 10,000-plus customers were affected because the district is fully bonded, Kunkle said. "The district continues to serve the needs of the public. We serve to benefit the public. It's very important that our integrity be maintained in the eyes of the public," Kunkle said. "Back in May of 2004, when these matters were brought before the board, we took immediate action and terminated Mr. Sebert and turned the matter over to the prosecuting attorney." Kunkle said that internal control procedures were implemented to try to prevent a similar situation from occurring again, and that the position of an executive director was eliminated. Sebert was one of several people indicted by the grand jury on Friday.

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