Cass employees charged in thefts
Eleven current and former Cass Scenic Railroad State Park employees face felony charges of conspiracy, fraud and theft after indictments were handed up by a Pocahontas County grand jury last week.
The charges span three and a half years, from March 2008 through October 2011. During that time employees allegedly sold more than $30,000 of state-owned scrap metal and pocketed the money or divided it among themselves, according to West Virginia State Police Corporal Mark Agee, who spent 14 months investigating the matter.
The conspiracy charges reached the top of the park’s management at the time. Former park superintendent David Caplinger and former Trainmaster George Fred Bartels were the highest-ranking park personnel caught up in the investigation.
Caplinger and Bartels were allegedly aware of the thefts, Agee said, but the two did not act to stop the activity.
Caplinger is now the superintendent at Pipestem Resort State Park. His position at Cass was filled by Rob Sovine in June, 2010.
The scheme came to light in 2011, when a former employee told Sovine about the illegal activity, said Agee. Sovine then contacted Agee about the alleged thefts.
As Agee began to interview employees, he uncovered a history of theft from the state park.
“Through my investigation, people started saying this had been going on for a long time,” said Agee. “It was kind of widespread since 2008.”
The alleged thefts did not affect passenger safety on the state park’s fleet of century-old steam locomotives, according to Agee. The materials sold from the park included railroad crosstie plates, spikes, steel train tires and parts from an end loader, Agee said.
The scrap was sold to Allegheny Disposal, in Green Bank, and Elkins Metals, according to the indictments.
Neither firm was aware that the scrap they were buying was stolen from the park, said Agee. In many cases, the material was delivered in state park vehicles by uniformed employees, Agee explained.
At Elkins Metal, an employee allegedly provided a signed letter from the locomotive shop foreman, authorizing the sale of the metal, the Charleston Daily Mail reported.
Both the employee and the shop foreman were among the 11 people indicted.
Sovine directed questions about the alleged thefts to Hoy Murphy, spokesperson for the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources, which manages the state park system.
“The West Virginia Division of Natural Resources is reviewing the indictments returned in Pocahontas County Circuit [Court] against current and past employees at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park,” Murphy said in a prepared statement. “Because this is a personnel as well as legal matter, WVDNR cannot comment as to the nature or extent of any potential administrative action as a result of the indictments.”
Pocahontas County Prosecuting Attorney Donna Price said many hours went into the investigation.
“This matter has been handled with care and with an understanding of the repercussions it may have on the park.” Price said in a statement released with the announcement of the indictments “However, the decision was made, with state officials and Corporal Agee, to pursue the matter in the criminal courts and allow it to develop and be handled in that fashion.”
Those indicted on felony charges include:
David Caplinger, 52, of Pipestem – one count conspiracy;
George Fred Bartels, 70, of Green Bank – one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Edward Arbogast, 33, of Marlinton – two counts grand larceny, one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Jason Cassell, 32, of Marlinton – one count grand larceny, one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Winfred Rex Cassell, 50, of Cass –one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Michael Cromer, 25, of Green Bank – one count petit larceny (a misdemeanor), one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Christopher Lambert, 29, of Durbin – two counts grand larceny, one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Bradley McDaniel, 34, of Marlinton – one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
John Mullenax, 37, of Dunmore – 12 counts grand larceny, one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Julian Waddell, 28, of Marlinton – one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme;
Michael Wolfe, 41, of Cass – one count petit larceny (a misdemeanor), one count conspiracy, one count fraudulent scheme.
Of those charged, only Wolfe Lambert and Rex Cassell are still currently employed at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park, said Murphy.
Several of the defendants were arraigned in Pocahontas County Circuit Court on December 7, with more scheduled for December 12. Pretrial hearings are being scheduled for March, 2013.