Cass Scenic Railroad workers charged in thefts
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Authorities allege 11 current and former Cass Scenic Railroad State Park employees, including a superintendent, conspired for three and a half years to let workers pocket more than $30,000 from selling state-owned scrap metal.
A Pocahontas County grand jury indicted the 11 this week. All are charged with felony conspiracy, but some face more serious charges, including multiple counts of grand theft.
Former park Superintendent David Caplinger is the highest-ranking official accused of wrongdoing. He is charged with one count of conspiracy. Caplinger is now superintendent at Pipestem Resort State Park in Summers County, one of the most visited parks in the state.
"He had knowledge the property was going out at one point in time in 2008," said State Police Cpl. Mark Agee.
Caplinger declined to comment on the allegations.
"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," said state park spokesman Hoy Murphy. The state Department of Natural Resources oversees the park system.
Cass railroad passengers were not in danger and its operations were not affected by the thefts, other than controversy among employees, Agee said.
Agee spent 14 months investigating the incidents after a 2011 complaint from current Cass Superintendent Rob Sovine.
"Through interviews and further investigation it was discovered there have been items from as far back as 2008 that I can actually show documentation for," Agee said in a telephone interview Thursday.
Agee said everyone he investigated is or was a Cass employee. (Sovine is not accused of wrongdoing.)
Agee found up to $35,000 of metal was sold from Cass to two scrap yards. He said the materials included railroad tie plates, spikes, steel train tires and a disassembled diesel-powered end loader.
Six people are charged with petty or grand theft, including John Mullenax, who faces 12 counts of grant theft. Mullenax did not return a Thursday afternoon message seeking comment.
Some of the 11 are claiming they had permission to sell the metal, Agee said.
Agee said some Cass workers might have had permission to sell the metal "at certain times."
"I think they took permission to an extent they shouldn't have," Agee said.
Even if anyone did have permission to sell the metal, they should not have pocketed money from state-owned property, Agee said.
"What items were taken from there belonged to Cass Railroad, so any profit that came from that should have come back to Cass Railroad State Park and not pocketed for personal gain," Agee said.
The grand jury mentioned two scrap yards that bought metal from the Cass employees, Alleghany Disposal in Green Bank and Elkins Metal Recycling in Elkins. Neither is accused of wrongdoing.
Agee said some of the Cass workers' actions would have looked legitimate.
"A lot of this would have come in company trucks while they were in uniform," he said.
That's what happened at Alleghany Disposal in Green Bank, said co-owner Malinda Meck.
"They came in in the company vehicles and company uniforms," she said in a telephone interview, referring to the Cass workers. "We knew they were on company time and that's part of the reason we didn't have any reason to believe it wasn't legitimate."
Elkins Metal's owner, Andrew Gongola, said he had a slightly different reaction when his scrap yard was approached to buy metal toward the end of the alleged conspiracy.
"When the first truckload arrived, it set off all the red flags at our facility because we don't buy railroad scrap," Gongola said in a telephone interview.
But the person trying to sell the metal was able to provide a letter from the locomotive shop foreman saying it was OK for the worker to sell the metal. Still, Gongola said he called the foreman to double check.
"To my mind, everything lined up," Gongola said.
Both the seller and the shop foreman were indicted this week.
Gongola said Alleghany Disposal bought some of the material earlier than Elkins Metal did and then sold it to Elkins Metal.
The eleven were indicted by the grand jury on Tuesday, according to Pocahontas County Circuit Court records. Agee said they are set to be arraigned today and next Wednesday.