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Former Lewis trail coordinator expected to testify today

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LOWVILLE — Following a full day of testimony Monday, Lewis County’s former recreational trail coordinator is expected to testify on his own behalf today in his larceny trial.

The bench trial of Robert C. Diehl, 43, Gardner Road, Martinsburg, commenced Monday before acting County Judge Donald E. Todd with a parade of 16 witnesses, most of them county officials.

Proceedings are to resume at 9 a.m. today with one final defense witness, expected to be Mr. Diehl himself, before any final arguments by attorneys and the judge’s ruling in the matter.

Mr. Diehl is charged with third-degree attempted grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct, having been accused of submitting a purchase order and voucher for payment last October for stone products from V.S. Virkler & Son, Lowville, that included $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his residence for his personal use.

The defense, handled by attorneys Michael F. Young and Gary W. Miles, attempted to show that Mr. Diehl had displayed no criminal intent in submitting the personal bill for payment. “It could be an accident,” Mr. Young told the judge after the prosecution had rested. “Obviously, that’s our defense.”

He at that point requested that the case immediately be dismissed on those grounds, as well as because none of the witnesses directly identified the defendant as a party in the matter, but Judge Todd ultimately ruled against that motion.

Assistant District Attorney Caleb J. Petzoldt argued that the intent was inherent as soon as Mr. Diehl signed off on a purchase offer with the personal bill, noting it was his responsibility to make sure things were correct.

Karen Reynolds, former office manager at V.S. Virkler, testified that she had mailed a bill for stone to Mr. Diehl’s home address in May 2012, then sent late notices in August and October. Then, in early October, she generated an emailed invoice through Quickbooks and sent it to the former trail coordinator’s county email address.

Mr. Diehl included the personal bill in with a couple of bills from V.S. Virkler for county trail projects and submitted a purchase order, which subsequently was approved and paid. The discrepancy was discovered by Mrs. Reynolds while she was trying to process the check, with county officials — starting with part-time Virkler employee and then-Legislature Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham — notified soon afterward.

On the afternoon of Nov. 14, Mr. Diehl was called for a meeting with then-County Manager David H. Pendergast, County Attorney Richard J. Graham, Sheriff Michael P. Carpinelli and senior Investigator Dale W. Roberts and told of the issue. The other four men at the session all testified Monday that Mr. Diehl seemed surprised and shocked at the allegations. They said he had indicated it was a big mistake, with Mr. Roberts recalling him saying, “I love my job. I would never do this.”

Those involved in the meeting also said they initially believed that Mr. Diehl had brought the personal invoice from home with him, finding out only later that it had come to his office by email.

Under cross-examination from Mr. Young, Mrs. Reynolds admitted that she had not told Mr. Roberts initially that the bill had been emailed. She also said that in a telephone call in May 2012, Mr. Diehl had specified that the stone for his driveway should be sent to his home address, not to the county.

A large portion of testimony also centered on the county’s purchase order policy.

Deputy Legislative Clerk Deanna L. Smith testified that she typically checks purchase orders for a department head signature and makes sure no sales tax or late fees are added erroneously, noting that she may have been the one who removed sales tax from Mr. Diehl’s personal bill.

A previous deputy clerk, current county Real Property Tax Services Director Linda D. Gydesen, said she often had to remind Mr. Diehl to submit bills for payment and he became somewhat dependent on her to handle and double-check his submissions.

Under questioning from Mr. Young, she and Legislative Clerk Teresa K. Clark both indicated that the personal invoice probably should have been caught at the county level, given that it had a different appearance from the mailed ones, was made out to Mr. Diehl personally and included sales tax.

The defense also sought to point out that Mr. Diehl, who spent much of his time in the field, initially had administrative help while housed with the county economic development and planning department, but he lost that support in 2008 when he moved to a separate office in the basement of the county office building. When new Trail Coordinator Jacqueline L. Mahoney was hired in May, she was placed back in with the economic development department.

Mr. Petzoldt countered by suggesting, through witness questioning, that the error should have been caught first by Mr. Diehl.

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