Cape city employees accused of receiving stolen property

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Members of the city of Cape Girardeau's public works traffic operations crew face criminal charges for allegedly making more than 20 trips to local recycling businesses to sell metal and batteries over several months in 2013.

Four members of the city's traffic crew received summonses last week for receiving stolen property, including the city's former traffic operations manager, Robert H. Kutak Jr.

Kutak and two other members of the division, Austin C. Carver and Geoffrey C. Dial, no longer work for the city, city manager Scott Meyer confirmed Monday. Another worker who received a summons, Travis K. Friga, is still employed by the city, according to Meyer.

The men allegedly took materials from the public works department, sold them for cash and split the profit, according to court documents.

Police began an investigation in November after public works director Tim Gramling reported he had been contacted by a city employee who told him the traffic crew was taking old signs removed from the city's right-of-ways and other unused materials to local recycling businesses.

Sgt. Don Perry investigated the claim and stated in the court documents that Sides Metal Recycling reported scrap metal being dropped off by Carver and Friga on 23 occasions between mid-February and Nov. 1, 2013. The total the men were paid by the business for metal was $1,788. Ellis Battery also was sold batteries by Carver twice in September; he was paid $555 for the items, according to the documents.

Through interviews Perry conducted with the men during the investigation, Kutak said the crew had taken "four or five loads of scrap metal, poles, posts and signs" to Sides Metal Recycling in exchange for cash, along with batteries to the other business. Friga also told Perry in his interview that on Nov. 1, metal "sleeves" for bike lane sign posts were unbanded "so it wouldn't look so obvious" and taken for recycling, and that he and Carver had been instructed by Kutak to haul off old or damaged signs to the metal recycling business. Kutak, according to Friga, per the probable-cause statement, would collect the money paid for the items and divide it among the four men.

The probable-cause statement filed with the Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney's office by Perry indicated there was reason to believe that felony stealing occurred with the incidents, yet the men were charged with misdemeanors. The prosecuting attorney's office declined to comment on the charges Monday, because the case is pending.

Police spokesman Darin Hickey said police request that the most serious charges be filed for any crime, but the decision ultimately lies with the prosecutors.

Meyer declined to discuss the reason or any circumstances related to terminated or continued employment, citing privacy concerns related to personnel.

The city's employee manual lists theft as an example of a "Group III offense" with a recommended action of immediate termination.

Kutak, Carver and Dial are scheduled to be arraigned on the charges before Judge Gary A. Kamp at 1 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Cape Girardeau County courthouse in Jackson. No attorneys for the three are listed in online court records.

Friga has hired an attorney, Bryan Greaser, to represent him in the case. Greaser on Friday filed a request for change of judge on behalf of Friga, who was also set to appear before Kamp. As of Monday, no new court date for Friga had yet been set, but Greaser said in an email to the Southeast Missourian that he anticipates an arraignment date being set for later this month or in February.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

2007 Southern Expressway, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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