Metal theft and city corruption: another Port Arthur city worker arrested

Daney Bowden Sr.

The ongoing battle against corruption among city of Port Arthur staffers continues as yet another former water department employee was charged with metal theft by a public servant on March 30, reports the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office.

Daney Bowden Sr., a former City of Port Arthur Water Department employee assigned to the Water Distribution Department, was formally charged by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office with three counts of theft by a public servant, third-degree felonies. Bowden has other cases pending against him that are still being investigated, reports the DA, but there have been no formal charges on those counts at this time.

The metal Bowden is accused of stealing, property of the City of Port Arthur Water Department, was sold to CMC Recycling, a metal scrap yard on College Street in Beaumont, according to the DA’s office. The gross weight of the metal sold by Bowden was 3,678 pounds, according to the probable cause affidavit for his arrest.

Bowden’s bond was set at $12,000.

Bowden’s arrest marks the fifth arrest of a current or former Port Arthur city employee for metal theft by a public servant so far this year.

Jan. 5, former city of Port Arthur Water Meter Services Department Supervisor Robert Leblanc, was arrested and formally charged by the DA’s office. He was charged with five counts of theft of metal by a public servant involving 21 incidents of metal theft, each of the five charges being a third-degree felony offense.

John Tomplait, city of Port Arthur assistant water utilities director, was arrested and formally charged with two counts of theft of metal by a public servant Wednesday, Jan. 20. He worked with the city for 36 years prior to his arrest.

Feb. 10, Waste Water Department Supervisor Joseph Soliz was arrested and charged with stealing and selling roughly eight tons, more than 16,000 pounds, of metal belonging to the city of Port Arthur. According to the DA’s office, Soliz was formally charged with six third-degree felony counts of theft of metal by a public servant.

Raymond Patrick Johnson, a City of Port Arthur Water Department employee assigned to the Water Distribution Department, was formally charged by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office with one third-degree felony count of theft of metal by a public servant and subsequently arrested March 18.

In addition to the metal theft incidents, two other city employees were arrested and charged this year with organized criminal activity and theft by a public servant related to a fuel theft conspiracy they allegedly perpetrated with two Port Arthur businessmen.

Four suspects were charged with felony theft Jan. 25 stemming from allegations they were involved in the gas theft scheme. Former city employees Steven Guidry Jr. and Randle Davis Jr. were charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and theft by a public servant. David Frank and Rabindra Nauth have been charged with engaging in organized criminal activity and aggregate felony theft. The charges against the former city employees are first-degree felonies, and the charges against the business owners are second-degree felonies.

According to the DA’s office, all four were an active part of and individually profited from stealing gas from the city of Port Arthur. The DA also said the long-term investigation into the gas scheme revealed fuel worth in excess of $146,000 was stolen from the city within a single year. Documentation from the previous year is still being examined.

That’s seven city employees charged and arrested in 2016 alone, but a pattern of corruption had already been established and uncovered through previous incidents.

Nov. 19, 2015, Carleton Edwards, former superintendent of the Streets Division for the city of Port Arthur, was arrested on 46 counts of credit card abuse. Investigators with the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office and the Port Arthur Police Department say he was using a city credit card for personal gain during his tenure as superintendent, spanning from July 2014 through October 2015.

Edwards’ arrest followed the arrest of municipal court clerk Sharon Shelvin who was terminated in March 2015 amid allegations of theft from the city and tampering with government documents.

Prosecutor Gary Reaves from the Jefferson County DA’s office previously told The Examiner his office is dedicated to finding and stamping out crime in the county.

“We’re committed to cleaning up corruption anywhere we find it,” Reaves asserted.

Jefferson County District Attorney Bob Wortham said stealing from the city is stealing from taxpayers.

“Stealing from the city, your school district and the county affects everyone,” Wortham said. “It is stealing from everyone.

“We will continue to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for these crimes.”

This is part of an ongoing criminal investigation into public integrity crimes within the City of Port Arthur, and the DA’s office indicated they would make no further statements in reference to Bowden’s case at this time. Anyone with information on crimes involving public integrity issues or other crimes is urged to call Lt. M. Blitch at the Port Arthur Police Department at (409) 983-8600, or to contact the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office at (409) 835-8550 and speak to an investigator in the Public Integrity Division.

Checks and balances

Most arrests of city employees of late have been related to metal theft. City Manager Brian McDougal said the metal is being stolen primarily from the Water Department.

“At one time, we were required to use copper between the main line and the water meter, but that is no longer the case,” said McDougal. “We are replacing copper with PVC pipe and removing the copper pieces, which are supposed to be brought back to the Operations Center and recycled.

“We have had to remove large metal pipes from the ground that go to recycling. It depends on the project as to how much metal is recycled.”

The probable cause affidavit for the arrest of Joseph Soliz, the Water Department supervisor who allegedly stole eight tons of metal from the city, reveals that in his case, the metal being stolen over the course of about six years, from October 2009 until May 2015, was scrap metal to be recycled on behalf of the city.

“The used water department property and metal were supposed to be returned to the City Service Center (Operations Center) in recycling bins or dumpsters, which the city has in place for the excess and scrap metal to be prepared to be accounted for and sold … by the City of Port Arthur,” the affidavit reads. “Each City of Port Arthur employee at the Water Department is made aware of the city ordinance, city policy and signs for the receipt of documentation stating this information and policies to its employees.”

McDougal explained the standard practice is for scrap metal to be collected and sold by the city, not by city employees for personal profit.

“We collect the metal at the Operations Center and have a metal recycling company pick it up periodically. They separate the metals and remit payment for the metal to us after it is separated and weighed.

“It adds up.”

McDougal said the city has always had policies and procedures in place to prevent theft, but because the corruption within the Water Department reached such heights in the chain of command, thieves were able to bypass those practices.

John Tomplait, the city of Port Arthur assistant water utilities director who worked for the city for 36 years before his termination and arrest for metal theft, was one of the managers in charge of overseeing the collection of the recyclables.

“He’s no longer with us because he was caught up in it,” McDougal explained.

Now, the recycling bin and warehouse are secured, and city staff are following proper policy and procedure, said McDougal.

DA’s Office investigators say metal stolen from the city as part of the metal theft investigations was sold to multiple scrap yards in Beaumont, not a single entity.

Soliz sold the metal he is accused of stealing from the city of Port Arthur to Beaumont Iron and Metal on Hollywood Street. Tomplait and Bowden both sold metal to CMC Recycling. But the proprietors of the scrap yards have been “helpful” and are cooperating with the efforts of Lt. Blitch and the DA’s office, said Investigator Marcelo Molfino.

Molfino said the money the former employees collected for the booty looted from the city was capital that would have gone into Port Arthur’s coffers to the benefit of its citizenry.

“The money from the tons of metal stolen would have gone straight into the general fund,” said Molfino. “Those guys stole city property and sold it for personal profit. That’s not right.”

McDougal agreed, and said the same applied to the fuel theft conspiracy that relieved the city of $140,000-plus in gas and related charges in a single year.

“I just negotiated a deal to purchase extended cab Ford trucks for about $19,000 each,” said McDougal. “With that $140,000 from just that instance, the city could have bought seven trucks. That’s a tangible thing we could have used the money for. That’s real.”

McDougal is still encouraging Port Arthur city employees and others in the community, “If you see something, say something.”

“People need to understand that if you see a fellow staff member stealing, they are stealing out of your pocket, as well as from the taxpayers,” he asserted. “I’m a fair but firm manager. If you’re stealing from the taxpayers, you should be punished for it.”

McDougal wanted to add he appreciates the majority of city staff who are honest, hard-working people.

“We have so many good employees, but a few bad apples are giving them a bad name,” he remarked. “But I know this organization is changing in a positive direction.”

Molfino said he also sees positive change on the horizon thanks to McDougal and new assistant city manager Dr. Jimmie Johnson.

“Brian McDougal and Dr. Jimmie Johnson are making changes and making people stick to the rules,” he said. “They are totally on top of it.”

The statute of limitations for cases of metal theft is 10 years. Investigators say more arrests are likely in the coming months.