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Alleged gas thefts could change city law

Caitlin Rickard crickard@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Nov 15, 2013 at 1:53 PM

Last week, authorities confirmed two additional Lebanon Gas Department workers are under investigation for apparent natural gas theft at their homes.

According to city attorney Andy Wright, former workers Ralph Sloan and Henry Bennett were added to a multi-agency investigation that started with Mark Caplenor, who resigned amid allegations in August he stole natural gas at his home for about nine years.

Wright said Sloan retired recently from the city amid similar allegations, while Bennett and Caplenor both resigned.

“I can confirm it. Sloan retired and Bennett resigned,” Wright said. “There were allegations both were involved in obtaining gas without paying for it at their homes. That is what law enforcement is investigating.

“We have been told by law enforcement there was an admission by both of them they were obtaining gas without paying for it.”

Wright said all three Gas Department employees under investigation chose to retire or resign before disciplinary proceedings were initiated against them, which was the city’s next step.

Sloan was a 32-year employee with the city, according to Wright, and had served plenty of time to reach his retirement pay.

Were Sloan to be convicted of theft, he would no longer receive his retirement pay.

Wright said under the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System, its rules are made into statutes and provisions and one specifically said those convicted of a felony arising from misconduct related to the job they retired from would not receive their retirement pay.

Wright said according to the city’s current insurance plan, those employees who retire with 30 years of service are eligible to stay on the city’s insurance plan for the rest of their lives.

Currently, Wright said there was no rule in place by the city regarding retirees convicted of a felony.

“In relation to the TCRS rule brought up, the council may want to explore having a policy to terminate the insurance plan for a retiree who’s ultimately convicted of a felony, too,” Wright said.

Wright said there wasn’t a rule in place to prevent this now because, to his knowledge, it had never happened before.

“Honestly, it’s such a rare instance it’s never been contemplated before, that someone would be able to retire with enough time of service for benefits and then ultimately be convicted of a felony,” Wright said. “With TCRS, those convicted would lose their benefits because of its provision in place, but would get the city’s insurance plan because there’s currently no rule in place.”

Wright said, given the current investigation, he thought the city might need to go ahead and “prepare for the worst” and look at putting a rule like the TCRS one in place that would state a convicted felon can no longer stay on the city’s insurance plan as a retiree.

Wright said no such rule would be on the council’s agenda coming up because it hasn’t been discussed much yet, but he suspected the issue could come up at a December or January meeting.

Wright said the other two workers under investigation resigned and did not have enough time to qualify for retirement, so any changes would not apply to them.

Wright also said it’s important to note no one has been charged. Caplenor, Sloan and Bennett are only under investigation, and the investigation is ongoing. Assistant District Attorney Jimmy Lea has said the cases will likely be turned over to a Wilson County grand jury.

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