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Prosecutor’s office investigates theft

By Staff | Apr 23, 2014

After last week’s allegations that a water system at the Sistersville Sewer Plant was dismantled and stolen, piece by piece, new information has come to light.

The allegations by City Commissioner Daniel Grimes and the corresponding story in last week’s Tyler Star News prompted Tyler County Prosecutor Luke Furbee and Investigator David Kelly to look into the matter.

Furbee said his office had never received any such complaint and the allegations recited in the article first came to the attention of his office with the publication of the article in the April 16 Tyler Star News.

The article quoted Sistersville Police Chief Ben Placer to say, “That employee was arrested and charged. He served some jail time for it.”

He elaborated that the former employee spent five days in jail.

Furbee disputed that comment, saying on Oct. 30, 2012, Michael A. Southerly pleaded guilty to misdemeanor embezzlement and was sentenced to five days in the North Central Regional Jail. The charge was based on a complaint filed by Chief Placer alleging that Southerly, a former employee of the City of Sistersville (as waste management operator), had converted to his own use a computer system. The system was located at Southerly’s residence and was recovered by Chief Placer, according to Furbee.

After the article was published Chief Placer agreed that the time served was not for an alleged theft of the water system, which would reportedly cost about $15,000 to replace. It was for the computer theft.

Placer said confusion at the meeting didn’t allow him to fully explain the matter.

Upon further examination, Placer said former City Commissioner Vance Ash said the water system at question never worked correctly. Former City Manager David Bassett had tried to make it usable and former Water Board Member Allan Maxwell designed a new system but it never came to be. Both of those men are now deceased.

Southerly was reportedly told to scrap the system and the money was put in a “slush” fund for employee needs.

However, this is reportedly part of a current investigation into the city’s finances as any gain from the system should have gone back into the general fund, which paid for it in the first place.

“Mike (Southerly) had no financial gain,” said Placer. “He was just doing what he was told. There were no accusations of wrongdoing.”

“This office is already supervising open investigations regarding certain aspects of the governance of the City of Sistersville,” said Furbee in a written statement on April 16.

“Those investigations are being conducted by the West Virginia State Police. Those investigations remain active and this office will have no further comment on them at this time.”