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Galveston, TX: Trial in $121,000 library theft begins today

Trial in $121,000 library theft begins today
http://galvestondailynews.com/story/168010

By Chris Paschenko
The Daily News
Published August 9, 2010
GALVESTON — Jury selection is expected to begin today in the trial of the former head of maintenance for Rosenberg Library, who is accused of stealing more than $121,000.

Terry Ray Merchant, 52, was accused of unlawfully appropriating money between May 1999 and March 2006 without the consent of John F. Augelli, the library’s executive director, according to a 2007 grand jury indictment on a theft charge.

An indictment isn’t a guilty verdict. It means the grand jury heard enough evidence to send the case to trial.

Merchant was employed for about 12 years at the library and was dismissed in April 2006 for an unrelated reason, Galveston police said. The library conducted an audit weeks later, and auditors reportedly found $121,584 that the library paid to nine companies that seemed to exist only on paper, police said.

Police traced the nine companies to a man who’d established six post office boxes to receive payments, a police investigator said.

Merchant, through his attorney, Mark Stevens, sought a dismissal of the case, claiming the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office targeted him through selective prosecution.

Judge John Ellisor, of Galveston’s 122nd District Court, denied the motion in April, according to court documents.

Stevens argued disputes of this nature are ordinarily declined by prosecutors with recommendations that similar cases be pursued as civil matters.

Merchant cited examples in which people weren’t prosecuted, referencing two articles in The Daily News.

Those articles reported the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute individuals who misappropriated cantaloupes or other produce from Del Monte and individuals who diverted $110,000 from College of the Mainland to a nonprofit entity, the motion states.

The selective prosecution stemmed from Merchant filing a lawsuit against the library, the motion states.

Merchant was fired April 4, 2006, by Augelli, and insubordination was the reason listed for the termination, the motion states.

In 2007, Merchant sued the library association, alleging employment discrimination and racial discrimination.

Merchant’s position and duties were assumed by an African-American assistant of his, who could be a key witness for the state, the motion states.

Police records show Augelli brought the matter to the district attorney’s office instead of reporting it to Galveston police, the motion states.

Prosecutors are seeking a punishment enhancement based on Merchant’s felony arson conviction in 1987, according to the theft indictment.

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