Judge rejects deal in metal theft case

| Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

A Fayette County man who on Monday expected to be sentenced to house arrest in connection with the theft of $600,000 worth of stainless steel from his former employer may instead have to go to trial.

Judge Nancy Vernon rejected the plea deal that had been offered to Robert Showman, 35, of Uniontown and ordered that his case be placed back on the trial list when the man's former boss and two of the company's employees said house arrest was too lenient.

“I don't believe the penalty fits the crime,” Vernon said. “This man was in a trusted position. He could have demolished the entire company and caused them to go bankrupt. Simply giving him house arrest is a slap on the wrist.”

State police said Showman and three other former employees of Hranec Sheet Metal Inc. in German Township 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 next 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 and house arrest.

Showman and Kenney Keener, 31, of Ruffsdale entered guilty pleas to the same charges. Keener is to be sentenced on Jan. 3.

Showman expected to receive a sentence similar to the ones given to Devince and Smouse, until Hranec and two of his employees testified that house arrest was not a harsh enough sentence for him.

Hranec said Showman was a 12-year, trusted employee who earned more than $70,000 annually. Showman's duties as shop foreman included supervising the other three defendants, he said.

“Mr. Showman should have been the very last person involved in this crime and the very first to stop it,” Hranec said.

Hranec said Showman continued to work for the company after police initiated an investigation. He attended meetings with police and steered investigators toward a supplier as the possible source of the missing steel, Hranec said.

“Mr. Showman sent us on a wild goose chase to Philadelphia, costing us thousands of dollars, as if $600,000 was not enough,” Hranec said.

Mike Sylvester, a department manager, said the thefts nearly bankrupted the company, jeopardizing 100 jobs. Sylvester said the company still owes $250,000 to the supplier of the stolen steel.

Employee Josh Tressler questioned house arrest as punishment for the theft of more than a half-million dollars in steel.

“I feel he should get the maximum sentence,” Tressler testified. “If everyone in this courtroom could get away with stealing a half-million dollars and only get house arrest, everyone would do it.”

District Attorney Jack Heneks said that after meeting with Hranec a number of times, he believed Hranec was in agreement with house arrest for all the defendants. He said he learned only recently that Hranec held Showman more accountable for the thefts than he did the others.

“It is a surprise to me ... of all of a sudden, Mr. Showman became the focus,” Heneks said.

Showman did not address the court. His attorney, David Kaiser of Uniontown, said Showman's role consisted of “keeping quiet for some money” but that he was remorseful.

A new trial date was not immediately set. Showman is free on $10,000 unsecured bond.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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