The two former Washington County commissioners accused of illegally taking public records from office were close to receiving a plea deal before an investigation was launched into another ex-county official's actions.
Whether those two investigations are related will determine when and if the former commissioners receive an opportunity to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, instead of facing prosecution on felony charges, said Washington County Prosecutor Jim Schneider. As it stands now, Schneider hopes to have the commissioners' case presented to the grand jury or resolved with a plea deal by February.
"I don't want to imply one way or the other whether I think (the cases are related)," he said. "I just don't know at this point, and the sheriff hasn't completed that investigation. Until I'm sure, I want to hold up on my trying to resolve the (commissioners') issue because I don't want to resolve it and then find out the sheriff has now come up with some connection... and now I have to start all over."
At issue is whether former commissioners John Grimes and Larry Steinel took public records from the courthouse when they left office. The men are accused of wiping their county computers of all information shortly before leaving office at the end of 2008. The files, many of which Sheriff Larry Mincks has said were needed for the county's budget process, were then copied to thumb drives and taken by the two former commissioners to their respective homes before many of them were recovered by county law enforcement.
At the time of the investigation into those actions, former county maintenance supervisor Chuck Moody was also investigated with regard to deleting public records during that time period. Schneider later said Moody wouldn't be charged because it was determined he was just following directions from his supervisor, Grimes, when he deleted files on his computer.
Moody resigned from his position Oct. 30, and allegations soon surfaced that he had received kickbacks on county contracts. While investigating that matter, Mincks said his office couldn't find pertinent public records for those contracts.
Since Grimes approved those contracts as Moody's direct supervisor and Grimes is accused of destroying public records, Mincks said he decided to investigate.
"It appears the documents for these fraudulent sales went through the commissioner's office and was either signed off by John Grimes or approved in some manner," he said. "Now as to what his knowledge was, that's still part of the investigation and I can't give you any information on that. Hopefully we'll have a final report up to Jim Schneider before very long."
Prior to the Moody revelations, Schneider said he had held discussions with Grimes and Steinel's attorneys about a plea deal, and that both men seemed open to the idea.
"In conversations with the attorneys, I already had learned that both men were receptive to that kind of resolution, but of course they wanted to know the particulars (of a plea deal)," he said. "The particulars would involve fines, jail time, suspended jail, restitution... all of these are possibilities."
Schneider said he had decided to offer a plea deal because neither commissioner had a previous criminal record and had not appeared to benefit financially from their alleged actions.
"However, what they did was wrong and should be punished," he said.
When contacted Monday, Grimes said he was not at liberty to talk about the case, while Steinel was unavailable for comment.