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Ex-Hagerstown employee pleads guilty in theft but won't serve jail time

August 06, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN -- A former city employee pleaded guilty Tuesday to one count of felony theft scheme, but he won't serve any jail time.

Police said Karl Kohler, the former electric operations manager at the City Light Plant in Hagerstown, received more than $7,000 in cash from the sale of copper wire from work sites.

Assistant State's Attorney Gina Cirincion, as part of the plea, requested that Kohler, 47, of 341 E. Irvin Ave., be fingerprinted and asked that he be ordered to pay restitution to the city. The state was not actively seeking jail time, she said.

Three charges of theft were dropped as part of the plea agreement.

Court documents allege 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.

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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 involved kept receipts of the sales.

Two employees said others, and not just Kohler, told them to take the copper wire to a scrap dealer, Cirincion said Tuesday.

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.

The money totaled $7,542.35, court documents show.

Police couldn't find any accounting of the cash transactions, and the money was at Kohler's home, not at a safe deposit box at his office, Cirincion said.

Kohler's attorney, Timothy Gordon, said that one of his client's responsibilities while at the city was maintaining an employee benefit fund, fed by profits from the sale of copper wire. When the price of copper skyrocketed, the fund increased significantly, Gordon said. Kohler's direct supervisor and other members of the department knew about the fund, he said.

Kohler, addressing the judge, said he did not attempt to defraud the city. He took the money out of the department out of concern, because there had been thefts there, Kohler said Tuesday in court.

"A major part of this problem was carrying money out of your place of employment," Washington County Circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr. told Kohler.

Long ordered Kohler to pay $3,393.03 in restitution to the city. He had already paid the city more than $4,000.

The judge sentenced Kohler to three years in prison, which he suspended, and ordered him to serve three years of supervised probation and perform 100 hours of community service within six months.

Kohler's last day of work for the city was Sept. 12, 2007, The Herald-Mail has reported. The police investigation into the matter began Aug. 3, 2007, after Detective Patricia Moulton received a tip.

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