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Stolen envelope led to Cahill’s resignation

CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice has a definite opinion about a bank envelope that wound up in the wrong hands on May 29, 2021.

“Basically any way you cut it, that money was stolen,” the governor said.

The incident the governor was discussing was a big factor in last week’s resignation of Jan Cahill, who had been West Virginia State Police superintendent for the past six years.

The basic facts are relatively straightforward. But interpretations of the initial actions by the man who temporarily wound up with the money and the more recent response by authorities have been subjects of broader debate.

The situation began about 11:20 May 29, 2021, when a patron of the Mardi Gras Casino & Resort in Cross Lanes reported to a security manager that he had lost the bank envelope about 30 minutes earlier, according to an incident report that was filed in the case and obtained by MetroNews via FOIA.

The man — whose name was redacted from the report — remembered getting up from a machine, walking to a self-serve soda machine and getting a drink.

Security video that state officials released shows that scene unfold. The man gets up from the machine where he has been playing, walks away and leaves behind an envelope on the seat.

Before two minutes have gone by, a man in jeans, a T-shirt and a ball cap walks by the machine, accompanied by a woman. The man picks up the envelope and looks at it. The woman sits down at the adjacent game and the man who now has the envelope walks off — with casino cameras recording his image everywhere he goes, including his departure.

The casino’s security team was able to see all of this, noticed the man picked up the envelope and left the property, according to the incident report. The video allowed the security team to identify the Ford 150 the man drove away in, along with its license plate number.

With that information, investigators ran the plate number, identified the driver, got in touch, recovered the envelope and accounted for $731.

The envelope of money was returned to the casino about 2:22 p.m., according to the incident report.

The next day, May 30, 2021, the man who lost the money returned to the casino about 11 a.m. and got it back.

“No further information at this time,” the incident report concluded.

The issue arose again this past Feb. 16, when then-Superintendent Cahill met with Brian Abraham, the governor’s chief of staff, one day after the revelation of the broader investigation of the state police agency.

At that meeting, Cahill heard for the first time about the captain who was accused of walking off with the money. They also discussed another trooper who had handled the case without moving to prosecute or loop in higher authorities.

A statement released after that meeting to television news reporters was that Abraham “recommended that Col. Cahill terminate the employment of both troopers involved by the close of business on February 16, 2023.”

Instead, on Feb. 17, Cahill received a written and brief retirement request on state police letterhead.

“The undersigned officer requests permission to retire from the West Virginia State Police effective at 2400 hours on Friday, February 17, 2023. It has been my sincere pleasure and honor to serve on your Senior Staff.”

Cahill had predicted that would be the result.

“At no time was I ordered to fire anybody,” Cahill said on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” saying that Abraham had told him to handle the situation as he saw fit.

“But I told him the person that’s in question on this, I said, ‘I know he’s got like 29 years in. I know he’ll just retire.’”

Cahill said he could not prevent the retirement. “Now the Consolidated Public Retirement Board, if they feel like they want to review something that somebody did …”

Cahill also said he could not have fired the trooper immediately.

“I could absolutely not have fired him that day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how egregious an act a person does right in front of us. All we could do is put someone on administrative leave, perhaps without pay, do an investigation and then I could say this person’s terminated — and then they still have 10 days to review the actions against them.”

Abraham acknowledged that he left the decision up to Cahill — but he said he, too, knew how that would turn out.

“Now yes, I ultimately left the decision how to deal with it up to him,” Abraham said on “Talkline,” “but quite frankly I gave him rope and I knew he’d hang himself because I knew he was going out of here, the day he left, and do what he normally does — and that is nothing.”

During a news briefing last week, Abraham displayed a set of bullet points to emphasize that Cahill had options to move toward terminating the troopers. That includes placing any employee on administrative leave, with or without compensation, pending investigation.

On the retirement, Abraham said, “a petition for retirement can be filed, but that’s required to be signed off on by the colonel before that can be granted. And any time there are matters of discipline that are pending, the colonel is within his discretion to deny that retirement pending the outcome of those investigations.”

Abraham, a former county prosecutor, called the incident at the casino “theft.” But he said charges are unlikely at this point.

“Given the delay between the discovery of the incident by Homeland Security and this coming to the public eye, the statute of limitations has likely run out that would prohibit a prosecution of that charge,” he said.

“The amount of money involved was just a little bit more than $750 in cash, which would have labeled that as a misdemeanor petit larceny, thus the statute of limitations. So I don’t believe even if we intended to turn that over there’s much that could be done at this date, except for the disciplinary action.”