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Diehl gets community service, conditional discharge; judge has harsh words for Lewis County

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LOWVILLE — Acting County Judge Donald E. Todd had harsher words for Lewis County than he did for defendant Robert C. Diehl at Wednesday morning’s sentencing of the former county recreational trail coordinator.

Mr. Diehl was convicted in October of third-degree attempted grand larceny, first-degree offering a false instrument for filing and official misconduct. He was accused of submitting a voucher for $3,262.97 worth of gravel, delivered to his residence for his personal use.

In Lewis County Court on Wednesday, he received a conditional discharge and 300 hours of community service, not the probation and one weekend in jail that the prosecutor recommended.

Calling the case “a political football,” Judge Todd questioned why someone at the county told V.S. Virkler & Son to cash the county’s check when it was known to be improper.

Though he received no answer from Assistant District Attorney Caleb J. Petzoldt as to why the check was cashed, Judge Todd suggested it was someone in the county who wished to have Mr. Diehl charged with a Class D felony, instead of a Class E one.

“The taxpayers better be upset about it,” Judge Todd said.

The error was caught by an employee at V.S. Virkler upon receipt of the check.

Board of Legislators Chairman Jack T. Bush, R-Brantingham, also an employee at V.S. Virkler, was alerted and the check was not cashed.

Mr. Bush informed then-County Manager David H. Pendergast and County Attorney Richard J. Graham of the check.

Mr. Diehl claimed to be surprised by the error. He then went in person to V.S. Virkler and wrote a personal check for the amount and was issued a receipt.

Mr. Diehl’s check, however, was not cashed. Instead, V.S. Virkler was informed by someone in the county to cash the county’s check, not Mr. Diehl’s.

It is unclear who directed that the county check be cashed.

Legislator Richard C. Lucas, R-Barnes Corners, said after the sentencing Wednesday: “I’ve said it all along. It was a witch hunt.”

He said the legislators were not informed of any activity involving Mr. Diehl until after he was suspended.

“As chairman of the (trail) committee, I wasn’t called. I found out first from a call from Bob, then I got a call from the county manager,” he said. “Everything happened so fast. There was never any discussion. I was just told what the county manager and county attorney decided to do.”

He was also unaware who made the call to authorize the check. “We’d all like to know who did it,” he said.

Mr. Diehl has contended he issued the request for payment in error as an electronic copy of the bill was delivered to his work email.

During sentencing, Judge Todd took issue with Mr. Diehl’s explanation. In his testimony, Mr. Diehl admitted to being surprised by a larger than expected bill from V.S. Virkler. Knowing that unexpected amount and receiving a bill at his home address a day prior to receiving an emailed version with the exact amount were too much for Judge Todd to believe was a mistake.

Instead, he suggested Mr. Diehl took advantage of unquestionable deficiencies in the county’s auditing process, while also urging the county to correct problems in that system.

Though Mr. Diehl and witnesses testified to the fact, Mr. Diehl made it clear when he ordered the gravel that it was for personal use, Judge Todd explained Mr. Diehl’s intent at the time of ordering was not the issue. Instead, it was his intent when requesting payment from the county.

Judge Todd agreed with a statement made by Mr. Diehl’s attorney, Gary W. Miles.

“Mr. Diehl is a good man,” Judge Todd said, “but I’m not here to judge the man. I’m here to judge his conduct. You engaged in conduct that was criminal.”

The prosecution requested one weekend in jail and probation.

Judge Todd said neither was required, instead issuing two three-year conditional discharges and two 300-hour community service sentences, to be served concurrently, for all counts.

Mr. Diehl has filed an appeal of the guilty verdict.

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