FARMINGTON — At the end of an hour-long preliminary hearing, Madison County Associate Circuit Judge Robin Fulton determined there was enough evidence for Leadington Police Chief Cledith Wakefield’s criminal case to go to circuit court for trial.
Wakefield’s next court date was scheduled for April 3 for arraignment before Circuit Court Judge Sandy Martinez, who will likely be disqualified from the case.
Wakefield is charged in St. Francois County with felony forgery and misdemeanor stealing.
The charges allege Wakefield, who has been chief for about 25 years, cashed former police officer Ken Short Jr.’s last paycheck in September 2007 and didn’t give the money to the officer. The check was for $330.
During the preliminary hearing Thursday afternoon, Judge Fulton heard evidence from four witnesses for the state.
Ken Short Jr. testified in April of 2007, he told a fellow police officer during a phone conversation that he was quitting.
“I believe he stopped by and I asked him if he could turn (my equipment) in for me,” Short said. His equipment included a duty belt, uniforms, weapon and badge.
Short said he did not submit a letter of resignation or give a supervisor advance warning that he was quitting.
Short testified he never received his final check. He said he didn’t expect to because it wasn’t mailed to him and he didn’t want to go to the police department to pick it up. Short said he didn’t want to face Chief Wakefield because Short was embarrassed and disappointed with himself for the way he quit the job.
However, Short said he had never had a problem with Wakefield and Wakefield had never had a problem with him.
Short said he had a joint bank account at Commerce Bank with his father and his father always picked up his check, signed it and deposited it into the account.
Short’s father, Ken Short Sr. testified his son worked nights so his son would leave the check on the coffee table unsigned. He said he would pick it up and take it to the bank and his wife would pick up and do his son’s laundry.
Both Short and his father testified that the endorsement on the back of Short’s final check was not either of their signatures.
The former officer also testified he never gave Wakefield permission to sign the back of his check for him or to cash it for him. He said he never received the money from his final check.
The next person to testify was the teller at the US Bank branch in Leadington. She said she recalled Wakefield coming through the drive through with a payroll check for Short. She said she noticed the check was not for him and told him he would have to sign his name under Short’s signature.
She said she could tell by the tone of his voice that he was aggravated by what she told him. She said no one was with him when he went through the drive through.
Sgt. Perry Smith, a criminal investigator for the Missouri State Highway Patrol Troop C, said he was assigned to the case in March just a few days after the St. Francois County prosecutor’s office requested the investigation.
He said he talked to the Short family and bank employees before talking to Wakefield. He said he also got copies of the bank records.
He said Wakefield told him that he handed Short the check when Short returned his police equipment in September. He said Wakefield said Short complained that the check was so old that he might not be able to cash it so Wakefield cashed the check for him and gave the money to him.
Smith said he called Short after meeting with Wakefield and Short said that Wakefield did not cash the check for him and he did not receive any money from Wakefield.
Wakefield’s attorney, Paul D’Agrosa presented no evidence or arguments for the defense.
The case is being prosecuted by the Attorney General’s Office after Prosecuting Attorney Wendy Wexler Horn recused herself from the case. Judge Fulton was assigned to the case after St. Francois County Associate Circuit Judge Thomas L. Ray recused himself from the case.
The felony charge carries a sentence of up to seven years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. The misdemeanor charge carries a sentence of up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
Teresa Ressel is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 179 or at email@example.com.