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Ex-Hagerstown light plant official charged in theft scheme

Copper wire allegedly sold for cash on several occasions

Copper wire allegedly sold for cash on several occasions

July 12, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN - The former electric operations manager at the City Light Plant in Hagerstown has been charged with three counts of theft and one count of theft-scheme related to money he is alleged to have received from the sale of city-owned scrap metal in 2006-07.

Karl Leslie Kohler, 47, of 341 E. Irvin Ave. in Hagerstown, is accused in court documents of keeping a portion of the proceeds from the sale of copper wire.

Police allege in court documents that Kohler received $7,542.35 in cash from the sale of the copper wire. After he was questioned by police, he returned $4,149.32 of that amount, according to charging documents in Washington County District Court in April.

City Human Resources Director Donna Messina said Kohler's last day on the job was Sept. 12, 2007. She declined to discuss the circumstances of his leaving.

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The Hagerstown Police Department began an investigation on Aug. 3, 2007, when Detective Patricia Moulton received a tip that a "theft scheme" might be taking place at the Light Department.

Court documents allege that investigators discovered that Kohler, who had been employed by the city for 21 years, told two of his subordinates to strip the rubber insulation from copper wire from several work sites and sell the wire for cash to a local scrap dealer.

The first sale was on Nov. 16, 2006, when workers hauled so much wire to the scrap dealer that it caused the back of a city truck to sag, documents allege. The workers gave the receipts and the money from the transaction, which totaled $3,361.50, to another City Light employee, who gave it to Kohler, documents allege.

The second incident occurred on May 9, 2007, when workers sold copper for $1,528.20, documents show. The receipt and money on this occasion were given directly to Kohler, documents allege.

The workers, however, suspected the activity was illegal and, as a result, began keeping copies of the receipts, documents show.

On May 24, 2007, the workers sold a third load of scrap metal for $2,652.65, documents show. Once again, they made a copy of the receipt and handed the original receipt and the money to Kohler, records contend.

After that transaction, the workers contacted police and gave their copies of the receipts to Moulton.

"I believed this was highly unusual that a supervisor within the city government would specifically request cash for the sale of government property," Moulton wrote in court papers.

Moulton asked City Finance Director Alfred Martin to determine whether Kohler had turned the money over to the city finance office as would have been the usual procedure, documents show. Martin told Moulton that Kohler had not, according to court papers.

On Sept. 4, 2007, police went to the Light Department at 425 E. Baltimore St. and asked Kohler to answer some questions about the thefts. Documents show that Kohler confirmed he told the workers to sell the wire to pay for employee picnics and parties, among other things. Kohler admitted to police that he wasn't authorized to use the money, documents allege.

When police asked Kohler how much money was left, he said he had $1,100 in cash in an envelope at his house, according to the court documents. Kohler told officers he took the money home because he thought someone might steal it at work.

Officers alleged that when Kohler was told to get the money, he said that he couldn't find it. Documents allege that later that evening, Kohler called City Utilities Director Michael Spiker and said that after a further search of the house, he found an envelope containing $3,123.32 in cash.

Police confiscated the envelope and labeled the contents as evidence, documents show.

Kohler told police that he intended to put the money in a slush fund for employee-related activities. Police alleged in court documents that Kohler admitted to pocketing about $700 to "pay a bill or cover a check."

Documents show Kohler was not arrested. Instead, he was served a warrant to appear in court.

Kohler has requested a jury trial. A trial date has been set for Aug. 5 in Washington County Circuit Court, court documents show.

A conviction on each of the four charges carries a sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $25,000 fine.

Attempts to reach Kohler, Martin, Spiker and City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman were unsuccessful.

WHAT HAPPENED

· The charges: Police allege that Karl Leslie Kohler, former electric operations manager at the City Light Plant in Hagerstown, received $7,542.35 in cash from the sale of the copper wire.

· Employees ordered: Documents allege two subordinates were told to strip the insulation from copper wire and sell the wire for cash to a scrap dealer. The employees reportedly kept copies of the receipts of the activity and turned them in to police.

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