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12-28-16

Public works
under scrutiny
Sager investigated over allegation of stealing

by Ivan Foley
Landmark publisher

There are allegations involving the Platte County Public Works Department.

Detectives in the Platte County Sheriff’s Department recently recommended that a charge of stealing be filed against Greg Sager, public works director for the county, over accusations of selling scrap metal material for personal monetary gain.

The stealing accusation is the most explosive detail in a series of investigative documents reviewed by The Landmark, as well as in interviews the newspaper has conducted with past and present employees.

Among the other topics uncovered in the documents and in the interviews are indications of loose procedures in the handling of county-owned equipment, other county property and petty cash; allegations of inappropriate conduct; and an accusation from a former employee that the human resources director tipped off Sager in advance of an audit concerning the whereabouts of county equipment allegedly being used for personal benefit.

A criminal probe began in early November when a former employee in the public works department reported suspicious activity to the sheriff’s department. Bill Manley, a public works employee who had been fired by Sager earlier this year, filed the police report with the sheriff’s department.

Manley has done multiple interviews with The Landmark in recent months over what he alleges has been inappropriate and potentially illegal conduct by Sager in the running of the public works department.

In a face-to-face conversation with The Landmark on Friday at the public works department headquarters in Tracy, Sager had little to say when questioned about the allegations.

“I can’t talk about it because there’s an investigation,” Sager told The Landmark.

Asked if he feels he should still be employed, Sager said: “I can’t speak to anything. I’m trying to let it work itself out.”

Asked if he followed proper procedures, Sager told the newspaper: “I think so.”

Asked about keeping as much as $1,357 of what he refers to as the department’s “petty cash” in his desk, Sager responded: “I probably shouldn’t say anything until I hear something from (law enforcement investigators).”

Asked about reports of county employees--including himself--using county equipment for personal benefit, Sager answered: “I don’t know what they found on that.”

THE CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION
After Manley’s filing of a police report, the matter that seemed to grab the most attention of sheriff’s department detectives involved payments for the scrapping of metal signs and where that money went. Detectives ran Sager’s name through what is known as a Leads Online database to determine if Sager had sold a significant amount of scrap material. The result showed Sager had sold 2,262 pounds of aluminum sheet metal material to Midwest Scrap in St. Joseph on April 5, 2014 and he was given payment of $1,357.20 for the scrap.

Via telephone, an employee at Midwest Scrap told investigators that Sager had record of another transaction with them, for $327.25 on May 19, 2012, in which he was paid for 565 pounds of aluminum sheet metal and 18 pounds of “wheel.”

County records indicate there had been no deposit of the money made, according to the police report.

SAGER’S FIRST INTERVIEW WITH DETECTIVES
Investigators first interviewed Sager on Nov. 22. According to the police report, Sager told investigators there is a lot of scrap metal picked up by the Platte County Public Works Department “which the employees are allowed to take and sell,” according to the police report. Sager told investigators he considers any scrap metal found at the county barn to be trash and of no value. Sager felt the old street signs were trash because they were no longer usable and denies scrapping them. In this first interview, Sager told them he has scrapped metal before but it was not from the public works department.

Sager told detectives he does not remember what he scrapped on April 4, 2014 or on May 19, 2012. Sager told investigators he does not consider anything that comes in during the Platte County clean-up as county property.

He told investigators the public works department has a petty cash “fund” they use for food and cards for public works employees. He told investigators he realizes “they should have kept better track of it,” according to the police report.

A SECOND INTERVIEW
WITH INVESTIGATORS

The next day, on Nov. 23, a detective was meeting with an assistant at the public works department, looking to acquire copies of checks that may have been received pertaining to scrap metal from the year 2010 to present. The detective, Susan Morrow, wrote in her report that she found “two scrap transactions under the name of Greg Sager, one on April 5, 2014 and one on May 19, 2012. I was unable to locate any corresponding deposits to the Platte County Public Works account.”

As the detective was preparing to leave the public works department office, she says Sager approached her. “Sager admitted to me he scrapped the aluminum signs from the public works department and asked if he could speak with Detective Sgt. Russ Smith and me in regards to the sale.”

Sager agreed to come to the sheriff’s department for an interview. Sager told detectives he wanted to buy a television for his employees to put in their break room. He told detectives he scrapped the county street signs and had the check made out to him. There was no procedure for this, he told investigators, “and he wasn’t sure how to get the money into the right place without losing his job.”

Sager said he ended up getting the TV for the employees through a different channel so he kept what he thought was $1,000 in his desk in an envelope and gave the rest to an assistant in the office to put in the petty cash box. Sager told investigators that if he had put all the money in the petty cash box it would have shocked his assistant, so he was going to put it in little by little, but they never used up the petty cash, according to the police report.

Investigators say there are no records of what is purchased with the petty cash “but generally they use it to make change for people buying permits, to purchase office supplies and buy food and cards for the employees,” Sager told detectives. “Sager knows they recently paid about $55 for a sound machine for the public works department’s front door and there is currently about $194 in the petty cash box,” according to the police report.

According to the police report, at this second interview Sager gave detectives an envelope containing money he said was from the aluminum signs. Detectives counted $1,100, which included two $100 bills and forty-five $20 bills. None of the bills were newer than 2013, it is stated in the report.

On Monday, Nov. 28, detectives received an email from Midwest Scrap containing a scale receiver register showing the following two transactions for Greg Sager: 596 pounds of aluminum sold for $327.25 on May 19, 2012, and 2,262 pounds of aluminum sold on April 5, 2014 for $1,357.20.

On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Detective Morrow contacted Sager to ask if they could meet to talk about the ticket showing he had sold 596 pounds of aluminum to Midwest Scrap on May 19, 2012 for $327.25.

“We agreed to meet in Platte City at (noon),” Morrow writes in her report. Morrow then adds that at 11:34 a.m. she received a phone call from Sager saying that he wished to speak with an attorney and canceled the meeting he had set with Morrow.

That same day, Nov. 29, Morrow completed a probable cause statement, outlining the department’s allegations of stealing against Sager for submission to the county prosecutor. On Nov. 30, the sheriff’s department says it received initial word that Zahnd was declining to prosecute.

Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd confirmed to The Landmark this week that he has declined to file charges.

In a conversation with The Landmark this week, Zahnd said: “While county procedures were clearly not followed, there was no evidence that Mr. Sager intended to permanently deprive the county of the proceeds from the scrapped metal, as those proceeds were never removed from county premises or converted to personal use.”

Asked by The Landmark why he did not ask that a special prosecutor be appointed to study the case, as his office has done in many other matters involving county employees--including a DWI against the human resources director and a stealing charge against the former facilities director, among other cases--Zahnd said: “I have declined to consider cases involving county employees with whom my office interacts on a regular basis or if there was some other relationship. We have reviewed cases and prosecuted county employees if those things did not exist. In this situation, neither I nor my office dealt with Mr. Sager professionally. I have only interacted with him briefly on a handful of occasions and have no relationship with him,” Zahnd said.

Meanwhile, with the sheriff’s department, Major Erik Holland was asked by The Landmark if the fact the detective forwarded the probable cause statement to the prosecutor is a sign the sheriff’s office felt there was a prosecutable case.

“It’s fair to say that, generally speaking, when we send up a probable cause statement the officer believes they have probable cause for a charge,” Holland said.

In a letter to Sheriff Mark Owen, prosecutor Zahnd wrote:

“The investigation revealed bookkeeping irregularities and potential non-compliance with county procedures. In addition, Mr. Sager was not completely candid with detectives during his initial interview, although he appears to have provided additional, truthful information in a subsequent interview.”

Zahnd went on to write: “In order to prove the offenses of stealing or receiving stolen property, the state must prove a purpose to deprive the owner of the property. In the context of these facts, Missouri law defines ‘deprive’ as ‘to withhold property from the owner permanently.’ In this case, there is no conclusive evidence that Mr. Sager appropriated county property with the purpose to permanently deprive the county of that property. To the contrary, it appears that the proceeds for the sale of scrap metal remained with the county at all times, and there was no action by Mr. Sager to convert those proceeds for his personal use. Likewise, the alleged use of county tools for employees’ personal projects and similar allegations contained in the investigative reports do not evince an intent to permanently deprive the county of that property.”

Public documents viewed by The Landmark indicate the $1,000 Sager turned over to investigators was given to the county auditor and in turn was deposited with the county treasurer’s office for deposit in the bank. This was done on Dec. 15.

OTHER ALLEGATIONS
AT PUBLIC WORKS

In the police report he filed with the sheriff’s department, Manley, the employee who had been fired last summer by Sager, told investigators Sager often used county tools for personal use. He also alleges that a county shop employee would work on Sager’s personal vehicle on county time and using county supplies. Manley told investigators that Don Perry, shop foreman, knew this and was the one telling county employees that the items were at Sager’s house.

Manley also alleged that the county purchased a new mower and Sager and his son used the mower to mow yards on the side to make money. Manley also said county-owned road tubes were taken from Hillsboro Road and taken to a residence in the Red Rock subdivision for an unknown reason.

Manley, in an interview with The Landmark and also in his talks with investigators, said he went to Mary Robinson, the county’s human resources director, with the information about the tools missing and allegedly being in Sager’s possession. According to Manley, Mrs. Robinson told him she would have the county auditor, her husband Kevin Robinson, conduct an audit of the equipment soon.

Manley says he had that conversation with Mrs. Robinson on a Friday in June. The following Monday, when public works employees arrived at work, all of the equipment Manley had noted in the meeting with Mrs. Robinson was lined up in the middle of the shop floor, with no explanation as to how it suddenly returned.

Manley told The Landmark he thinks he knows what happened.

Manley alleges that Mary Robinson contacted Sager to let him know an in-house audit was about to be conducted. Manley alleges that’s why the equipment in question showed up on that Monday morning in full view of employees.

The in-house audit by the county auditor did not occur until later that week. Manley says by that time the equipment in question had long been returned.

Manley also says when he initially took his concerns to Mary Robinson about the tools and other matters, Mrs. Robinson told him “nothing can really be done.”

“She told me my inquiry will just make it hard on myself and the crew in the shop. I asked her about going to a county commissioner and she told me ‘definitely do not do that,’” Manley said in the police report.

Manley said Mary Robinson told him that “directors (department heads) do what they want/as they see fit. She said going to a commissioner would do no good--‘do not do that.”

Mrs. Robinson could not be reached for comment on the matter. As reported elsewhere in this issue of The Landmark, Robinson has not been in her office and her current employment status with the county is up in the air. A co-worker in Robinson's office told The Landmark that Robinson had resigned effective Dec. 16. But Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner, clouded that assessment of the Robinson's employment status by telling The Landmark: "That is an ongoing personnel matter that I won't discuss."

Manley says after his July 6 firing, he did take the issue to at least one county commissioner. In the police report, Manley says he met with Duane Soper, second district commissioner, on July 11 to share the situation. During that discussion with Soper, Manley says he outlined for the commissioner the circumstances resulting in his termination as well as shared information from his previous meetings with Mary Robinson.

In the police report, Manley says Soper acted surprised to learn of the alleged missing equipment, county equipment allegedly being used for personal gain by Sager, etc. Manley says Soper agreed to follow up and get back with him.

Manley told sheriff’s investigators that in the summer of 2013, Sager was preparing to sell a brown or tan Kia automobile. Manley alleges that Sager had a county employee perform service on the vehicle for about two weeks during working hours. In the police report, Manley alleges that on several occasions, Sager has brought personal vehicles to the public works building for mechanics to work on during working hours, doing maintenance work such as tire rotations, oil changes and small repairs on Sager’s personal vehicles.

In the police report, Manley told investigators that in the spring of 2011 there was a full pallet of old signs that were at public works on a Friday in the spring of 2011and were suddenly gone the following Monday. Manley said when he inquired about the missing signs, he was told by another county worker that Sager had inquired about the location of the scrap yard for the signs. Manley told investigators that Sager at work the following week was showing off a new gun that he had purchased, according to the police report.

Manley alleges that in 2011 or 2012, one of the public works department’s pickup trucks had tires that were less than two weeks old when they were taken off that vehicle and replaced with another new set of tires. Manley stated he was told by superiors that the tires removed were being installed on a truck belonging to Sager’s son.

Sager denied this allegation in the interview with The Landmark on Friday.

Manley also alleges that Sager had used a county-owned mower to mow privately-owned lawns. Sager admitted to investigators that he had borrowed a department lawn mower over the summer so his son could mow the lawn of a friend who was on vacation. Neither Sager nor his son received payment for mowing the friend’s grass, Sager told investigators.

In the police report, Sager says public works employees were allowed to use the county shop to work on their personal vehicles, however Sager said he has been directed by the county commission that is no longer acceptable and Sager has put a stop to it. Sager told investigators when the employees used the shop in the past they brought their own supplies and parts. Sager told investigators he used the shop on his own time and purchased his own auto parts.

According to the police report, Sager told investigators that public works employees were allowed to borrow county tools for personal use “as long as they understood if they broke it they had to fix it.” Sager then told investigators he no longer allows employees to use county equipment. Sager admitted he used equipment for personal use a few times but that is no longer permitted, either, according to the police report.

THE FIRING OF MANLEY
Manley says his firing occurred in July. He said it came at the end of a special safety meeting involving the department’s road crew.

“At the end of the meeting, each employee received gift cards valued at $200. When distributing these cards, Sager repeatedly told the group they didn’t deserve the cards, using profanity. He said the department had more accidents last year than it had ever had. He repeatedly told those of us in attendance that we didn’t deserve this,” Manley said.

After several repeats of that message from Sager, Manley said he tossed his gift card on the table and said to Sager: “I don’t want this, I don’t need it.”

Manley says in front of all assembled employees, Sager then told Manley he was being dismissed. Manley said he asked: “For the day? For the week?”

Manley says Sager then told him “Forever.”

Manley says as he was leaving, Sager stopped him at the door and continued making the point that the entire crew did not deserve the gift cards, that he had to explain to taxpayers why he had given the gift cards.

Manley said he replied to Sager: “You obviously don’t want us to have these gift cards, I don’t need mine. It’s not a big deal.”

Manley said he had been an employee of the county for nearly five years and had never been written up or reprimanded.

“I got fired for tossing a gift card on the table and saying ‘I don’t want it.’ I don’t understand why he (Sager) has not been fired over all of this,” Manley told The Landmark this week.

For more on this topic, go to http://www.plattecountylandmark.com/ifoley.htm

Greg Sager