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Lewis County trail coordinator accused of using county-funded gravel

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LOWVILLE — Lewis County’s suspended recreational trail coordinator is accused of using more than $3,000 worth of county-bought gravel on the driveway at his town of Martinsburg home.

Lewis County Sheriff’s Department officials on Tuesday morning charged Robert C. Diehl, 43, of 3611 Gardner Road, with third-degree grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct. He was arraigned before Lowville Village Justice Patricia H. Yarina and released on his own recognizance.

Because the first two charges are felonies, he likely will be prosecuted through Lewis County Court.

Mr. Diehl was accused of submitting a purchase order and voucher for payment in late October for stone products from V.S. Virkler and Son, Lowville, that included $3,262.97 worth of gravel that was delivered to his residence for his personal use. The discrepancy was discovered after payment had been made, department officials said.

In his official capacity, the trail coordinator regularly purchases gravel and other stone products from Virkler using the county’s all-terrain-vehicle trail permit fund, to create and maintain off-road trails.

Michael F. Young, who along with attorney Gary W. Miles is representing Mr. Diehl, declined to comment Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Diehl has not returned multiple phone messages over the past week.

A V.S. Virkler employee declined to comment about a rumored attempt by Mr. Diehl to make good on the cost personally after the issue was discovered.

County Manager David H. Pendergast, who one week ago suspended Mr. Diehl without pay over the allegations, said he was not aware of any attempt to reimburse the county.

While rumors of the trail coordinator improperly using a county truck assigned to him also have surfaced, officials said they were not part of the criminal investigation, which concluded at the end of last week.

Sheriff’s Department officials held off on charging Mr. Diehl until after consulting with District Attorney Leanne K. Moser, who presumably will prosecute the case.

The trail coordinator on Tuesday morning turned himself in at the county Public Safety Building.

Mr. Diehl, who was appointed by legislators six years ago, is entitled to a Civil Service hearing to defend himself and seek reinstatement to his job.

The Board of Legislators may either conduct the hearing or appoint a hearing officer to oversee it and make a recommendation to the board, which would make the ultimate decision on his job status, said County Attorney Richard J. Graham.

That disciplinary process may be held off until completion of the criminal process but doesn’t need to be, he said.

Board of Legislators Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, on Tuesday afternoon said he had been out of town and was unaware charges had been lodged against Mr. Diehl.

Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners and chairman of the legislative committee that oversees the trail program, said he was “very disappointed” with the way the matter has unfolded but would withhold further comment until Mr. Diehl gets his due process.

Mr. Diehl was hired as the county’s first trail coordinator in mid-2006. He oversees the county’s permit-based all-terrain-vehicle trails program, handles applications for state reimbursement for snowmobile trail grooming by local clubs, seeks other grant funding for trail work and organizes several events each year, including snowkiting, a mountain bike race and canoe and kayak events.

Mr. Diehl is the second Lewis County department head suspended without pay in the last year, although the previous one has not faced any criminal charges.

The county manager in late December took a similar action against then-Democratic Election Commissioner Elaine McLear on allegations that she had authorized her daughter to be paid for election inspector work she did not do.

State police investigated that case and findings were turned over to the state attorney general’s office, which has taken no action.

Mrs. McLear recently sued the county seeking reinstatement and back pay, and a state Supreme Court justice ruled in her favor, agreeing election commissioners can be removed from office only by the governor. However, the county appealed the decision, keeping Mrs. McLear from returning to work until that process is completed.

That likely won’t happen until after the commissioners’ terms expire Dec. 31, allowing the county Democratic Party Committee and county legislators to appoint a new commissioner, presumably interim Commissioner Lindsay I. Burriss.

Unlike election commissioners, dismissal of a nonmandated trail coordinator would not require gubernatorial action.

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