Serious discussions at Wetzel County Commission Tuesday morning revealed that a situation involving multiple firearms and missing cash at the Wetzel County Sheriff's Office is under investigation.
Sheriff Mike Koontz and Prosecuting Attorney Timothy Haught were present at the meeting. Koontz was chosen to serve as interim sheriff after former sheriff James Hoskins resigned. Hoskins cited new job opportunities as his reason for resignation, but his departure did come amid allegations that he was not fulfilling his duties. Further details given at Tuesday's meeting continue to point toward problems in the office.
The prosecutor first explained that property that had been donated to the sheriff's department by Bayer Corporation, specifically firearms, was recently unaccounted for. Haught reported that after Hoskins' and former Chief Deputy Rob Haught's departure, Koontz went to inventory of the sheriff's department and discovered firearms were missing. Koontz then went to Bayer Corporation and recovered a record of the donated firearms, along with their serial numbers. Timothy Haught then described Koontz as having made a "diligent effort to search the office."
Letters were then sent to the former sheriff and former chief deputy, telling them of the missing firearms and that they would soon be listed as stolen.
The prosecutor reported that a "DPMS assault type rifle, along with other items" were brought to the prosecutor's office by Hoskins. Furthermore, Timothy Haught stated Rob Haught then "dropped off items of firearms" to the sheriff's office. The final items were also reported to the sheriff's office.
The commissioners were told that all items that were donated by Bayer had been recovered, including one 9mm pistol which had been sold to a pawn shop and then sold to a third party by the pawn shop sometime in 2010 or 2011. This pistol was county property and was registered to the sheriff's office. The prosecutor said that this situation is "under investigation, criminally."
In an interview by telephone Tuesday evening, Hoskins was asked about the firearms from Bayer. Hoskins stated that there were five guns originally missing. Hoskins stated that former Chief Deputy Rob Haught had four out of the five guns. "I didn't have any of those from Bayer," he stated. "I returned one, from the sheriff's office." Hoskins added that when he left the sheriff's office, he left in a hurry and "had to gather stuff." He then added, about the gun, he did take, "I'm not aware it was one donated by Bayer." Hoskins also stated that he did not know that the 9mm pistol was sold to a pawn shop.
Rob Haught did not respond to a phone message left for him Tuesday afternoon.
At the commission meeting, Koontz said that this specific situation, regarding the 9mm pistol, took hours of work, including the execution of a search warrant. He said that the matter was going to be "on the desk for prosecution," as the pistol had been "sold without authorization of the county."
It was also reported that there had been "monies taken from the concealed weapons fund," specifically $900. These funds were supposedly removed to purchase a firearm, which is not accounted for at the Wetzel County Sheriff's Office. The commissioners were told that the firearm is in an individual's name who was at the sheriff's office. This firearm has not been returned to the sheriff's office.
"The last thing we want as a county, is a weapon that is registered to the sheriff's office involved in a crime," said Timothy Haught.
When asked about the firearm, Hoskins responded, "It was probably listed under (my name), because they needed a name. It was used for the sheriff's office." When told the gun was still missing, Hoskins stated, "That gun is still missing. . .okay."
Koontz and Timothy Haught also reported that there was an additional $2,600 that has been mostly unaccounted for. These monies were from the confiscated property fund. This was money that had been provided by the county commission to the sheriff's office for drug investigations, but there is no record of where the $2,600 went. Furthermore, it was said that this matter is "still under investigation." Out of the $2,600, only $300 to $400 could be accounted for as being use in an investigation.
The prosecutor explained that there should be a procedure for keeping track of money that is used in criminal investigations. He explained that in his own office, when an investigation is going on, he will release the money to law enforcement, who, in turn, provide the prosecutor's office with reports. If the defendant is charged and found guilty of crimes, they are ordered to repay the money that was used in the investigation. This reimburses the investigative fund.
When asked about the missing funds, Hoskins responded, "Well, I talked to Tim Haught about that a few weeks ago, and when I talked to Tim Haught, everything was fine. He was going to call and let me know if there was any more problem with it. I just assumed everything was taken care of and everything was fine with it."
Perhaps most alarming are the several firearms that those at the sheriff's department did not know the office possessed. Koontz reported that several assault-type weapons, including ones with silencers and machine guns, were registered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in the name of the Wetzel County Sheriff's Department.
"Why would a county buy a weapon with a silencer on it?" Commission President Don Mason asked, rhetorically.
"The ATF asked me the same questions when I called them," Haught stated.
"Most of the people in our department didn't know we had these fully automatic weapons," Sheriff Koontz added.
Commissioner Scott Lemley brought up the fact that under the ATF, an individual cannot own these weapons at all. And it was added that two of these weapons registered through the ATF were fully automatic machine guns. "It's not something you'd want to carry around in your trunk," Koontz stated.
Koontz and Timothy Haught confirmed that the weapons were now in a locked room, behind two locks.
When asked why the sheriff's department possessed assault-type weapons, Hoskins responded, "Because they are for special response team use."
It was also noted at the commission meeting that four mounting systems were purchased under a grant, but only one has been located.
Another serious matter, the prosecutor reported, was missing evidence that he had to disclose to the defense counsel in one of his cases.
A suppression hearing was held in one of his cases, a drug sale, over the summer. Evidence, including drugs and money, were seized during a search conducted as part of the investigation in this case.
This evidence was brought to the suppression hearing by the evidence custodian, who, at the time, was Rob Haught. The hearing was cancelled and the evidence was reportedly taken back to the evidence room by the custodian.
Timothy Haught reported that he later found out the $485 cash that was part of this specific case's evidence was missing from the evidence room. He reported that this should've been disclosed to him, but he did not find out until after Sheriff Hoskins left.
Sheriff Koontz and Deputy Hayes reportedly scoured the evidence room for the missing money, but it could not be found. The prosecuting attorney reported that he had to notify the opposing counsel in the case that the money was missing. The money had been logged into evidence by the evidence custodian, but the $485 is missing. "I don't know how the disposition (of the case) will be," reported the prosecutor. "The matter is still under investigation."
The commissioners and the prosecutor had nothing but words of praise for Koontz. "Sheriff Koontz has put things in order, but it was at his initiative and my advice. Mike and I wanted to let you know what the status of the sheriff's office is now," said Timothy Haught. "My office is going through all these things. . . Given the info (Koontz) has uncovered, I'm going to have to review all of that, make decisions, and perhaps pursue some things. All these things are serious, not minor."
Another astonishing factor that comes into play was the fact that there has been no inventory system found that the former sheriff used. "I was appalled, frankly, of the roomful of firearms sitting there," the prosecutor stated. Though he added, "(Koontz) has gotten to the bottom of this issue of these county firearms."
"I, for one, am thankful that Mike was appointed in the time he was appointed. He deserves a lot of credit," Timothy Haught stated. "We are going to clean the mess up. I'm committed to following through with any steps that need taken. It should've never gotten to this point."
He added, "I want people to have confidence in the sheriff and law enforcement. I've always tried to be transparent. Mike and I thought it was important to come to the commission this morning in open session to let you and the public know, and let it be known that it's being taken care of."