(02/17/2006)
Eight months after his initial arrest, Gilmer County Commissioner Larry B. Chapman's trial is scheduled for April 12. The final preliminary hearing was held Wednesday morning at Gilmer County Magistrate Court.

Chapman is charged with 22-counts of engaging in business dealings that, as owner of the Glenville Western Auto-Radio Shack Store, constitute a conflict of interest with his commission post.

Chapman has reportedly said he has never violated the trust of the people of Gilmer County, and has operated in the public interest, committing no wrongdoing.

West Virginia Code prohibits county commissioners from engaging in business transactions with other governmental entities they may either exert influence on, or have control over.

The law bans the practice outright, making no distinction with respect to the monetary value of the transactions.

In the Chapman case, most of the transactions appeared to be for items represented by reasonable charges, which he reportedly said were sold to the county as a matter of convenience.

The charges stem from transactions occurring in 2004 and 2005.

One of the incidents allegedly involves providing a cell phone to the director of the Gilmer County Recreation Center.

On July 27, 2004 the Gilmer County Parks and Recreation Board issued a check for "cash" in the amount of $400 with a memo stating "Verizon deposit." Chapman, and fellow Parks and Recreation Board member Jane Collins, signed the check.

A second Recreation Center Board member Bob Archer also signed the check, a board of non-paid community volunteers.

The check was cashed the same day and subsequently spent at Chapman's Western Auto store. Chapman acted as "sales agent" in that transaction as well, according to the cell phone contract.

If found guilty on any of the 22 charges against him, at a minimum, Chapman will be forced to resign from his commission post. He could also face jail time and fines of up to several thousand dollars.

The investigation into Chapman's county business dealings began when county resident Ron Mumma turned over evidence to Gilmer County Prosecuting Attorney Gerald Hough in April of last year.

Hough recused himself from the case, but forwarded the information to Wirt County Prosecutor Leslie Maze, who is special prosecutor in the Gilmer County Recreation Center investigation.

Hough's letter to Maze stated in part, "By implication and direct evidence, this appears to be a direct violation of WV Code 61-10-15 prohibiting pecuniary interests of county commissioners."

Lead investigator in the case is Cpl J.E. Skidmore of the West Virginia State Police.

The trial will be held in Gilmer County Magistrate Court with Magistrate Beth Smith, of Braxton County, presiding. Both Gilmer magistrates refused to hear the case.


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