UPDATE: Terra Alta Mayor indicted on a felony charge

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UPDATE (10/21/2020 3:58 p.m.):

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. – The Preston County Grand Jury has indicted the mayor of Terra Alta on a felony charge.

This week, Robert DeLauder was indicted on one count of damage or destruction to telecommunications or cable service.

DeLauder was arrested on August 24 after state police said that he damaged a Prodigi box in the Terra Alta Town Hall back in June. Court documents explained that DeLauder also removed a power line and damaged the telephone wiring block to the Prodigi box. DeLauder told police that the damage was not caused by him but by someone who broke into the town hall building.

DeLauder faces a sentence of one to three years in prison if convicted.

UPDATE (8/26/2020 7:17 p.m.):

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. – The day after Mayor Robert DeLauder’s arrest, he was out on a $10,000 bond and promising to fight the charge brought against him by the Preston County Prosecutor’s Office.

“I plan on mounting a vigorous defense against this charge,” DeLauder said. “I think it’s—I think it was overcharged, and it’s kind of surprising that with all that’s going on in Preston County, the prosecutor would have time to do something like this.”

DeLauder described the felony charge as “unfounded” and said he didn’t like the theater of being arrested during a town council meeting. He said the warrant for his arrest was issued on Aug. 20, but his arrest came on Aug. 24 in a move pulled by the police that he described as “disappointing.”

The mayor asserts that the crime he is charged with, tampering with the internet connection, could not possibly be him, but instead the result of a break-in. He said proof lies in the fact that the utility closet’s door was damaged. Even if he had committed the alleged crime, DeLauder said, the impact on the public would not be what the prosecutor is alleging.

“The person that I would hurt by doing that would be me because I was on my computer in my office, trying to get some work done and the internet wasn’t working properly,” DeLauder said. “The only person who would be a victim of me damaging the internet would be me.”

He added that the town clerk was also affected by the loss of service. However, Holly Funk, a citizen of Terra Alta said that could not be farther from the truth.

“The reason that we found out something was wrong with them was because our clerks couldn’t get onto their internet systems and people were showing up here because they were trying to call in and were getting no answer,” Funk said. “They were trying to pay their water bills and they couldn’t get a hold of anybody, that’s how they came to figure out that something was wrong with the whole system. So it did affect the town because people couldn’t pay their water bill, they couldn’t get in contact with any issues of what was going on, so it did directly affect the town.”

Funk, who was at the meeting on Monday night and recorded the mayor’s arrest, said she didn’t see the arrest coming but was not surprised considering the mayor’s previous alleged conduct.

“I feel like it’s sad that we’re at this point, but I also feel like this is a positive change for us because there’s been a lot in the background happening and this is proof of that and it’s finally being acted on and it gives me a little hope for the future of Terra Alta,” Funk said.

The happenings in the background Funk is referring to relate to the fact that DeLauder was recently brought up on charges of perjury and false swearing. He is alleged to have falsely claimed “no income” when filing for a public defendant. His need of a public defender, Funk said, stemmed from allegedly removing and discarding the meeting agenda from the town hall’s door. This original charge was determined to be “alteration, concealment or destruction of public record”.

Funk’s sentiment about the mayor’s conduct was echoed by Derek Kreiner, another Terra Alta citizen, who said he was also unaware of the arrest being imminent but that he wasn’t surprised.

“I am both the most critical opponent and critic of the mayor,” Kreimer said. “But I am also, when he is right, one of the few that will stand there and defend him. And in this instance I don’t believe he is right.”

Kreiner said he, Funk and other citizens formed a coalition in January to demand more accountability from the mayor, but that proved to be difficult.

“Nobody went into this wanting to see the mayor hauled out in handcuffs or wanting to see the mayor remove,” Kreiner said. “We had questions and concerns that we were not getting answers to and we chose to further dig and look for those answers ourselves. At every level, we found further and further corruption and the mayor himself specifically targeted citizens to make it personal and personal and personal. So it was gratifying but at the same time, it was unfortunate for the town.”

DeLauder said he plans on continuing to serve as mayor while he fights his felony charge, but Kreiner said he wants to see the mayor take paid administrative leave to give the town time to heal and process everything that is going on.

The mayor said he has heard the contrary — he stated that there are many who have reached out in support after his arrest and release. He said they, like him, think the allegations are “ridiculous”. Delauder added that what many dislike about him is that his tenure has been marred by the struggles to fix the budget deficit he inherited when he became Mayor in 2019. He said he had to make many budget cuts and adjustments, but the town was now “back in the black” again.

“I inherited a huge deficit with the town of Terra Alta,” the Mayor said. “We were about $90,000 in debt, for a small town that basically runs on utility revenues and we get a little bit from our tax base, that’s a lot of money.”

However, the amount of debt he inherited is a matter of public debate because the mayor has refused to be transparent, both Funk and Kreimer said.

“I don’t know where he’s gotten that number, it’s changed frequently throughout different newscasts and news articles,” Funk said. “It’s been everywhere from $30,000 to I think, at one point, he said $120,000. I think it just depends, I’ve yet to see those numbers actually on paper.”

DeLauder’s preliminary hearing is set for 3:30 p.m., Sept. 2 in magistrate court.

**This story is still developing and we will continue to update it with the latest information as it becomes available.**

UPDATE (8/25/2020 9:28 a.m.):

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. — A criminal complaint has been filed against Robert DeLauder charging him with felony “Damage or Destruction to Telecommunications or Cable Service.”

In that complaint — which was filed by Prosecuting Attorney Melvin Snyder — it is alleged that “on the evening of June 3rd or the morning of June 4th, 2020,” DeLauder “willfully and intentionally damaged the Prodigi box” in the Terra Alta Town Hall.

The complaint goes on to allege DeLauder did so by “removing the power line and damaging the telephone wiring block thereby interrupting the Prodigi Internet and telecommunications that night.”

Also in the complaint, it is alleged that “there is video showing only Robert Delauder [sic] and no one else in that building that night,” and that “Prodigi Internet and telecommunications service into the Terra Alta Town Hall is considered a service to the public.”

WBOY has reached out to the Preston County Prosecutor’s Office but they would give no comment into the matter.

**This story is still developing and we will continue to update it with the latest information as it becomes available.**

ORIGINAL (8/24/2020 11:13 p.m.):

TERRA ALTA, W.Va. – The mayor of Terra Alta in Preston County was seen being led out of a council meeting in handcuffs on Monday night.

12 News has obtained video of state police leading Mayor Robert DeLauder out of the council meeting and to a state police vehicle.

The events unfolded after council had called a 10 minute recess. In August, DeLauder faced charges of of false swearing and perjury and in June, destruction of public record.

12 News has reached out to the West Virginia State Police Kingwood Detachment, who referred us to the prosecutor’s office for further information. At this time we have not heard back from the prosecutor.

**This story is still developing and we will continue to update it with the latest information as it becomes available.**

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