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Former Berkeley Co. sewer director enters plea in embezzlement

March 13, 2007|by MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely said she was prepared to show jurors 800 pages of documents in the state's embezzlement case against former Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District director Walter H. "Walt" Sebert Jr.

But after only one witness took the stand last week, only to be followed by the trial's postponement twice because of inclement weather, a plea agreement reached Monday averted what Games-Neely had warned jurors would be a somewhat cumbersome case.

"We're done," Games-Neely said after Sewer District board members, her office and Sebert's attorney, Jim Lees, agreed to allow Sebert to plead 'no contest' to a misdemeanor count of embezzlement.

Appearing in court with his wife and Lees, Sebert told 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes that he wanted to "put this behind me" so he could go on with the rest of his life.

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A sentencing hearing was scheduled for May 11 by Wilkes, who has the discretion to impose a jail term up to one year and order that restitution be paid.

Sebert was indicted on a felony count of embezzlement in October 2006 and previously was named in a 12-count indictment in February 2005. Eleven of the counts were dismissed and the original embezzlement charge in the indictment was flawed in its wording, prompting the reindictment in October.

Sebert was accused of embezzling more than $31,000 between Jan. 1, 2003, and May 2004, when he was dismissed from his job.

Games-Neely confirmed Monday that civil litigation Sebert filed against his employer also was resolved, apparently as a result of the plea deal. Michael Scales, Sebert's attorney in that claim, and Charles F. Printz Jr., the Sewer District board's attorney, attended the hastily arranged plea hearing at 4 p.m. Monday.

"It's not been formally dismissed, but there's an agreement that all the civil parties agreed to," Games-Neely said.

A copy of that agreement was not available, and when asked for comment about the plea deal Lees provided a typed statement.

"Walt Sebert and his wife very much wanted to put this matter behind them and get on with the rest of their lives," Lees said.

"In past years, it appears that a culture developed at the BCPSSD in which moneys were expended on dinners, parties, gifts and travel which were inconsistent with the fiduciary duties of public servants.

Walt Sebert together with the then board members were a part of that culture and by entering a no contest plea to a misdemeanor charge Mr. Sebert acknowledges responsibility for his part in that culture."

As the only witness to testify last week, Berkeley County Public Service Sewer District member John C. Kunkle acknowledged that the sewer district's customers essentially footed the bill for board members' dinners at high-end restaurants, including the Bavarian Inn in Shepherdstown, W.Va. At Danny Rays Raw Bar & Grill, board members discussed sewer district business, Kunkle said.

Kunkle also acknowledged that 100 percent of sewer district employees' benefits were paid for by the customers. That revelation prompted Wilkes to have Kunkle repeat it before he remarked that it must be a "good place to work."

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