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Former Lewis trail coordinator found guilty of attempted gravel larceny

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s former recreational trail coordinator was convicted Tuesday of trying to charge the county for gravel delivered to his home for personal use.

After deliberating for several hours, acting County Judge Donald E. Todd found Robert C. Diehl, 43, Gardner Road, Martinsburg, guilty of third-degree attempted grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct.

Sentencing was set for Nov. 20, and he was released on his own recognizance.

Mr. Diehl was accused of submitting a purchase order and voucher for payment Oct. 25 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.

He initially was charged with third-degree grand larceny, but Judge Todd in July ruled that the felony charge should be changed to attempted grand larceny because Mr. Diehl personally paid off the bill, before the county’s check was cashed, after a Virkler employee noticed the issue.

As part of his deliberations, the judge had testimony from six witnesses, three from the prosecution and three from the defense, re-read to him before going back to the jury room and coming to a final verdict.

During closing arguments Tuesday morning, attorney Gary W. Miles — who represented Mr. Diehl with Michael F. Young — argued that Mr. Diehl’s submission of a personal bill received at his work email address was “an honest, albeit a foolish mistake.”

“Horrible mistakes are horrible, but they’re not criminal,” Mr. Miles said.

He added that the former trail coordinator is “not a good office manager, but I know some lawyers like that, too,” and noted that, by keeping a copy of the invoice in question in his office, he actually “did everything he could to get caught.”

The defense attorney suggested that the matter should be a civil case, not a criminal one, and that Mr. Diehl was made a scapegoat.

Assistant District Attorney Caleb J. Petzoldt countered that the defense was attempting to make scapegoats out of any other county officials who might have caught the personal bill before it was paid.

“Mr. Diehl is responsible for Mr. Diehl’s actions,” he said.

Mr. Petzoldt equated the former trail coordinator’s situation to people who take items from Walmart without paying for them and claim it was done accidentally, even though they already had passed the point of sale.

“What else is he supposed to say?” the prosecutor said.

The final day of the two-day bench trial began with Mr. Diehl taking the stand to defend himself.

The ex-county employee testified that he had initially informed Virkler office manager Karen Reynolds that the bill in question, intended to cover stone for his driveway and base for a new garage, should go to his home address, as it was not a county expense.

However, he said, the roughly $3,500 bill, including sales tax, was much higher than he had anticipated, and he decided to wait until completion of the garage to pay it, despite a pair of late notices mailed to his address.

When asked by Mr. Petzoldt why he didn’t pay off his bill sooner, Mr. Diehl said, “No good reason. It was stupidity.”

Mrs. Reynolds then emailed a copy of the personal invoice to the work email address of Mr. Diehl, who had no home telephone or email address at the time.

The former trail coordinator said that, upon seeing the bill, he assumed it was for county gravel, printed out the bill and put it in a file with other invoices from the stone product company.

“I never expected a personal bill from Virkler’s to come to the office,” he said. “Never.”

Mr. Diehl testified that he later entered the personal bill with two other legitimate county ones for Virkler’s in the county’s purchase order system, removing the sales tax from the emailed one, then signed off on it and sent it to the legislative office for processing.

“I made a mistake,” he said. “I did not read that email attachment.”

Mr. Diehl said he was never informed of the error until a few weeks later, when he was called from the field into the county manager’s office and ultimately suspended.

“I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach,” he said.

Following a Dec. 26 administrative hearing, retired state Supreme Court Justice John S. Parker found Mr. Diehl not guilty of gross negligence but guilty of incompetence, and recommended the county reprimand him and suspend him without pay for 60 days. Legislators ultimately decided to fire him instead.

Lawmakers in May hired Jacqueline L. Mahoney as the new trail coordinator, and Mr. Diehl later that month filed a civil suit against the county seeking his job back, along with back pay and legal fees.

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