Pocahontas prosecutor talks about Cass steel larceny
Marlinton, W.Va. – Eleven former and current employees of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park were indicted last week for alleged crimes related to the larceny of scrap steel from the park. I interviewed Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price Monday morning about the investigation that led to the indictments.
Q: can you just give me the basics of what the people did that was against the law?
Price: Removing actual railroad steel and taking it to various recycling centers and converting that to cash, as opposed to bringing the money back to Cass, and they kept the money. But the State of West Virginia has surplus, and how you’re supposed to dispose of surplus, no matter how minor. And what they were doing was removing various items of railroad parts and particle and railroad steel and converting that to cash and then they were keeping their shares of the money – splitting it up between whoever hauled it off that day.
Q: How did this investigation get started? How did the initial wrongdoing – how was that discovered?
Price: The current superintendent came to Trooper Agee with concerns that this was occurring almost 14 months ago, or a little over 14 months ago. And, with that, then Trooper Agee began looking into it. When you look at the indictments, it looks a little odd – did this just start in 2008? 2008 to 2011 are what we could prove with receipts. We have receipts for every time they took it, which is how we chose who and what we were charging – was what we could actually, with documented proof, have.
Q: How many park officials were involved with this and how high ranking, in the system, were they?
Price: We indicted one former superintendent; the train master, who also operates as the assistant superintendent; various shop personnel in various levels; shop foreman. I’m not sure what their other titles were. Down to just basic laborers.
Q: Where did the material come from and how was it converted?
Price: Some of it was where they’ve been working to replace some of the track. The peeled-up track was taken. There was parts of a railroad car that was cut down and taken and other various types of metal that were around the shop. But a vast majority of it was re-usable steel and a lot of it was where they were taking up and peeling up track and replacing it.
Q: Is it possible these people didn’t think they were doing anything wrong?
Price: Anything’s possible. Possible and probable are two different things. At some point – like I say, we have a three year window that we can cover – it was almost a half-million tons of steel and $37,000 worth of money that was receipted. At some point, you got to figure out – that’s not right.
Q: Everybody hears about the theft of copper. Is it common to have crimes involving the theft of steel?
Price: In today’s economy, anything you can convert to cash – I would say is common. So, yeah, and particularly what you can make on quality railroad steel.
Q: What was the total dollar amount that was divided?
Price: It was 36 and change. It was right at $37,000 – that we have actual, documented receipts that was paid out.
Q: was anybody not a park employee involved with this?
Price: No. At one point, they were either full-time or seasonal employees.
Q: What about the people who received this material for recycling? Is there any indication that they may have committed a crime?
Price: No. We’ve not been able to determine that, at all. There’s two primary locations and, throughout the investigation, what we learned is – a lot of this was happening on park time, in park uniforms, with park vehicles. So, your recycling centers – there’s no reason for them to believe this hasn’t been approved – and both recycling centers have cooperated with us, which is how we got our receipts.