Fayette County businessman hoped for harsher outcome in theft of stainless steel
A Fayette County businessman who police said lost $600,000 worth of stainless steel to employee theft says he has more questions than answers as the former workers' cases wind down in court.
“For four guys stealing $600,000, nothing has happened,” said Steve Hranec, owner of Hranec Sheet Metal Inc. in German Township. “They (defendants) got 11 months house arrest, and nothing happened to the company that took it in 24 times.”
State police said four of Hranec's former employees stole $600,000 worth of new, coiled stainless steel between June 29, 2009, and May 9, 2011. According to a criminal complaint, the men sold the steel to a scrap yard, Metalico Brownsville of Jefferson Township, formerly known as Assad Iron and Metal.
In the complaint, police said the men devised a scheme in which one of them ordered full coils of 24- and 26-gauge stainless steel from Hranec's Warminster-based supplier, Spectrum Metals. Once the coils were delivered, one of the men would wait until nightfall to load them onto a truck so they could be sold for scrap the following day, police said.
Hranec unraveled the scheme in 2011, when he realized the company was losing money, police said.
Two of the men, Timothy J. Devince, 27, of Uniontown and Timothy R. Smouse, 27, of Greensburg, entered guilty pleas to theft and conspiracy. Each was ordered to pay restitution and was sentenced to 23 months of intermediate punishment.
DeVince is to serve 11 1⁄2 months of his sentence on house arrest with electronic monitoring. Smouse is to be on house arrest for the entire 23 months, according to court records.
Two others, Kenney Keener, 31, of Ruffsdale and Robert Louis Showman Jr., 35, of Uniontown, have entered guilty pleas to the same charges. Showman is to be sentenced on Dec. 9, and Keener's sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 3.
Smouse apologized during his sentencing hearing before President Judge John F. Wagner Jr.
“Steve, I'd like to apologize to you for what I did,” Smouse said. “It definitely was wrong, what I did. I feel terrible about it, and I ask your forgiveness.”
In a victim-impact statement, Hranec told Wagner that he did not “want to see anyone go to jail.” After the hearing, Hranec said he agreed to house arrest for three of the men — Devince, Smouse and Keener — because they acknowledged their roles in the theft.
He said he wants a harsher sentence for Showman, whom he described as a trusted shop foreman and veteran employee of 12 years.
“He had the keys to the place,” Hranec said. “He was the one who was supposed to make sure this didn't happen. I hope he gets a little harder sentence than 11 months.”
Showman “was responsible for conducting inventory at Hranec's, so he made sure the material was correct on the inventory sheets,” according to the criminal complaint.
Hranec said one aspect of the case he finds most disturbing is that Metalico received just one citation for its alleged role. Hranec said he believes the company should have received 24 citations — one for each time its own records showed it purchased new steel from the four men.
District Attorney Jack Heneks said piling on the citations would not have made a difference because Belle Vernon District Judge Cramer acquitted Metalico of any wrongdoing.
“They were found not guilty,” Heneks said. “It doesn't matter if we filed one (citation) or 20; that's what the magistrate's ruling was.”
Heneks, who served as prosecutor at Metalico's summary trial before Cramer, said Keener testified that the materials were new, and Metalico's records of the transactions were entered into evidence.
According to the criminal complaint, Metalico's records showed it purchased 88 tons of stainless steel from Devince and Keener in 2010 and 2011, for a total of $130,042.
“We had the co-conspirator, Mr. Keener, testify, and we had evidence from Metalico's own records,” Heneks said. “We thought we had clear violations. Evidently, the judge disagreed.”
Cramer, who has since retired, could not be reached for comment. Metalico Brownsville deferred comment to Dan Caumo at its Pittsburgh location. Caumo did not return a phone call.
Metalico's attorney, Sam Davis of Uniontown, said Cramer ruled in Metalico's favor because the company was innocent. He said Metalico had accepted materials from the men on Hranec's behalf in the past, “so there was nothing unusual” about the transactions.
Davis said the decision to have one of the accused men testify as a witness against Metalico did not help prosecutors.
“Anytime the whole case rests on someone who committed a crime, it's shaky,” Davis said. “And it's not as if (Metalico) is renowned for being involved in criminal actions. They are well-respected.”
Gary Altman, a Uniontown attorney who represents Hranec in a related civil lawsuit, attended Metalico's summary trial but did not participate in the proceedings.
He said he believes the citation was dismissed because the law is relatively new and prosecutors “did not do a very good job of explaining the law and facts.”
Altman believes that he has a better chance of prevailing in the civil case, which seeks monetary damages from Metalico. He said the case has been on hold for two months as the two sides wait for Senior Judge Gerald Solomon to issue a ruling on a pending motion.
Liz Zemba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or firstname.lastname@example.org.