Archive for Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Questions toss wrench into radio fund-raiser

Reservist faced 2002 criminal damages

December 22, 2004

A rural Lansing reservist who reported farm equipment stolen from his barn while he was away on duty had agreed to a diversion in a 2002 case in which he had been charged with felony possession of stolen property.

Leslie E. Ward, now 52, entered into the diversion in July 2002, three months after Leavenworth County Sheriff's officers seized what was determined to be a stolen vehicle-hauling trailer from a barn at his house.

Leavenworth County Attorney Frank Kohl, who signed off on the diversion, said he wished organizers of a drive to raise money for a replacement tractor for Ward had talked to him before collecting money.

"First off, anybody can be a victim of crime ... however there are a lot of questions that come up surrounding this case," he said.

Kohl said the theft report was void of key information.

"It'd seem he would have a VIN number or some type of identifying number for his tractor, but he didn't," Kohl said. "That raises some questions in my mind."

Detective Sgt. John Schermbeck of the Leavenworth County sheriff's office said the lack of a serial number was not uncommon in such cases.

When asked whether the sheriff's office was investigating whether the theft report was true, Schermbeck said, "It's an open investigation. Beyond that, I don't know what would be appropriate to comment on."

Ward, contacted Tuesday, said he was taken aback by Kohl's statements.

"They know it's stolen," Ward said.

He said the equipment was in the barn when the trailer was seized in 2002.

"I'm pretty sure the sheriff knows that," he said.

The revelation about Ward's past and Kohl's questions about the theft report put a Kansas City radio station in a quandary.

Mix 93.3-FM and one of its disc jockeys, Kelly Urich, had raised more than $10,000 in donations to help buy a replacement tractor for Ward.

Urich said he and the station manager would discuss the new information before determining whether the station would go through with the donation to Ward.

"The fact is he still went to Iraq and was injured," Urich said Monday night.

Ward was asked whether he would contribute to another soldier under circumstances similar to his. "I honestly don't know," he said.

In the 2002 case, Ward could not provide proof of ownership of the trailer, which had its serial number ground off. An investigative report filed by the sheriff's office said identification numbers on four trailers found in Ward's barn had been altered.

In agreeing to the diversion, prosecutors dropped the charge and Ward agreed to not violate any laws for a 12-month period, pay court costs and a diversion fee, make restitution and report to the county's diversion office monthly for 12 months.

Ward, who served in Iraq beginning in January 2003, had spent the past few months in Texas recovering from an injury he suffered in Baghdad. When he returned home a few weeks ago, he reported farm equipment in his barn had been stolen.

A story in The Mirror and the Lansing Current newspapers about the theft spurred a report by Kansas City television station KMBC. It, in turn, prompted Mix 93.3 and Urich to launch an on-air drive to raise fund to supply Ward with a new tractor.

Kohl, the Leavenworth County attorney, said he could understand the premise behind trying to help a soldier who had been a victim of a theft. It's unfortunate, he said, that so many questions about the tractor reported stolen by Ward have been unanswered.

"There probably are a lot more people who are deserving of charity, especially at this time of year," Kohl said.

Ward said he never sought to do anything other than report his tractor stolen.

"I never one time asked for donations," he said. "That never was my intent. I actually feel bad because there were a lot of soldiers hurt worse than me."

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