SUMMERSVILLE — A Nicholas County magistrate found probable cause Wednesday for criminal charges against former Richwood mayor Bob Henry Baber but not against former Richwood police chief Allen Cogar.
Meanwhile, Chris Drennen, another former Richwood mayor, and Abby McClung, the former city clerk, waived their preliminary hearings, which were also set for Wednesday.
The charges, filed in March, came after an 18-month investigation by the State Auditor’s Office into alleged misuse of city purchasing cards (p-cards). The scope of the investigation, which the West Virginia State Police joined, broadened to eventually allege other financial misdeeds.
None of the four have yet been found guilty of the embezzlement and other charges against them. Nicholas Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Sweeney has yet to present their cases to a grand jury.
Despite Magistrate Mike Hanks not finding probable cause against Cogar, Sweeney could still present his case to a grand jury, which can decide whether to indict the four former Richwood officials.
State Police charged Cogar with embezzlement and misusing a Richwood p-card.
At the end of Cogar’s preliminary hearing, Hanks said he hadn’t heard evidence that the city of Richwood hadn’t received services for work allegedly done at Allen’s Discount Tire, which Cogar owns.
Furthermore, Hanks noted the shop is in Cowen, which is in Webster County, not Nicholas. This could create issues regarding whether that charge should instead be brought in Webster.
Though Hanks didn’t mention it, Cogar’s Marlinton-based lawyer, Bob Martin, stressed during examination of a witness, an employee of the State Auditor’s Office, that the office didn’t have proof that Cogar profited from the work performed at his shop.
Martin asked Bryan Whitley whether he had any reason to believe that a $31 oil change, one of the alleged expenses at Allen’s Discount Tire, had any profit built into it.
“I’m not sure, I don’t know what the going rate,” is, Whitley said.
Martin asked State Police Lt. B.L. Mankins, another of Sweeney’s witnesses, “do you know whether any of these [expenses] were approved in any way by a councilperson or councilpersons of Richwood?”
“I don’t,” Mankins replied.
Martin told Hanks in closing arguments that “the very best the testimony got on the transactions for embezzlement was there was a potential.”
Charleston-based attorney Jim Cagle defended Baber, who was also charged with embezzlement and p-card misuse related charges.
Mankins testified that investigators found several of Baber’s expenditures weren’t approved by the city.
Cagle stressed during examination of John Jones, another Auditor’s Office employee, that the amount of Baber’s p-card purchases that the office found to be unrelated to city business totaled about $1,600, or about $50 per transaction.
Sweeney noted 19 instances where Baber had given his p-card to others to use. He also presented a check that Baber allegedly used to pay himself for alleged flood recovery work he did before he became mayor.
Cagle made no closing statement.