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Eleven misdemeanor charges dropped against W.Va. sewer director

August 15, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Former Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District director Walter H. "Walt" Sebert Jr. was cleared Monday of 11 misdemeanor charges of counterfeit credit card possession, and a remaining felony embezzlement allegation could be dismissed, too.

Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely asked 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes to dismiss all 12 counts of a February 2005 indictment by a Berkeley County grand jury, but asked to retain the right to prosecute Sebert on the embezzlement charge.

"We want to reindict it with the proper language," said Games-Neely after the hearing. The wording of the indictment wrongly specifies that Sebert stole "cash" in the amount of $31,608 from the sewer district, Games-Neely said.

Games-Neely expects a decision on the embezzlement request in several days.

Evidence discovered after Sebert was indicted made the 11 credit card-related misdemeanor charges incorrect, she added.

Last month, Wilkes denied a motion by Games-Neely to amend the indictment to exclude the reference to cash, noting in a March hearing that the county's top prosecutor "never disagreed with the Court's interpretation and did not indicate that the state intended to prove anything but the unlawful embezzlement of cash as stated in Count 1 of the indictment."

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"... to allow the state to remove the term 'cash,' in essence, converts the allegation of one stealing cash to that of utilizing numerous schemes or devices so as to obtain goods and services at times rather than money from the victim," Wilkes concluded. "This alters the essential element of the offense, which requires resubmission to the grand jury."

Wilkes said he wanted to review what was presented to the grand jury before deciding Games-Neely's "nolle prosequi" request.

Sebert's attorney, Jim Lees, suggested the state had ample time to prosecute the case and failed to give his client a speedy trial since the indictment was announced 18 months ago.

"If it's not cash that he stole, what is it that he stole? What exactly did he do?" Lees said after the hearing.

Sebert, of 162 Noll Drive in Martinsburg, was fired in May 2004 by the service district's board of directors for malfeasance.

The credit cards were considered to be counterfeit because they were apparently obtained for the sewer district without approval from the district's board of directors, Games-Neely had 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.

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 had said.

Sebert has filed a lawsuit against the district's board of directors, claiming they wrongfully breached his contract and discharged him.

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