Charges dismissed against former W.Va. official

August 24, 2006|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A 12-count indictment of former Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District director Walter H. "Walt" Sebert Jr. was officially dismissed and removed from the Berkeley County Circuit Court docket Monday, court records show.

Sebert still could be indicted on at least one felony count of embezzlement stemming from the February 2005 true bill decided by grand jurors, according to the final order issued by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes.

"If everything goes according to plan, we'll be re-presenting the matter to the grand jury in October for their consideration," Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely said Wednesday.

The embezzlement charge in the indictment mistakenly included the word "cash" instead of "money," Games-Neely said.

Sebert had been accused of making $31,608 in unauthorized purchases from April 2003 to May 2004 with credit cards.

In an Aug. 14 hearing, defense attorney Jim Lee argued that all 12 counts should be dismissed with prejudice because the state had not tried Sebert in a timely manner and further proceedings would violate his constitutional or statutory right to a speedy trial.


In his order, Wilkes responded that Lee's argument was "premature." The judge also noted that if another grand jury returns an indictment on similar grounds against Sebert, the court "must look at the time frames and charges."

Sebert, of 162 Noll Drive, Martinsburg, originally was indicted on 11 counts of counterfeit credit card possession and the lone felony count of embezzlement. He was dismissed from his job in May 2004 by the service district's board of directors for malfeasance, records show.

In the Aug. 14 hearing, Wilkes said he wasn't worried about the amount of money involved, but appeared to openly question the validity of the evidence.

"I'm not worried about the amount of the money (allegedly involved)," said Wilkes, according to a transcript of the Aug. 14 proceedings. "I'm worried about what constitutes a crime ... Doesn't embezzlement require that the monies be entrusted to the individual and that he embezzled it?"

Games-Neely defended the embezzlement charge, telling Wilkes that Sebert "had control over the access of the purchase order, which is control over the funds" to make the purchases that are now the subject of a criminal proceeding.

"That's an interesting concept," Wilkes responded.

Games-Neely told Wilkes that her office put "cash" instead of statutory language in the indictment because they considered it to be "cash assets of the business" that ultimately were taken from the Public Service Sewer District.

"We were wrong. We admit we were wrong in that respect," Games-Neely said.

The variance from the statutory language ultimately prompted Wilkes to deny the state's motion to amend the indictment last month.

"That's a pleasure for a prosecutor to agree saying I did something right," Wilkes said. "Prosecutors never say I do anything right."

The items Sebert supposedly purchased, including tools, furniture and shelving, were for his personal use, Games-Neely has previously 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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