By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
Lester Mook appeared before a jury and the Honorable Judge James Courrier on one count of grand larceny and one count of possession of stolen vehicle relating to a Polaris side by side. Prosecuting Attorney Ray Lamora began with his opening statement, saying, “This is a case of circumstantial evidence,” as he proceeded to give definitions and examples. Mook’s defense attorney, Patrick Nichols, then had a chance to make his opening statement before the jury moved into witness testimonies.
LaMora gave some history of the case in an interview, where former W.Va. State Police Corporal J.E. Kopec received a complaint of a stolen vehicle in October 2012 where an investigation failed to turn up any suspects. In August of 2017, search warrants were being issued at the Mook household when a higher end Polaris RZR (Robby Gordon Edition) side by side was noted. It appeared that someone had taken duct tape and covered all of the emblems, decals, and icons that were stock on the side by side, which struck Cpl. Kopec as odd. LaMora said that Mook allegedly told the officers that the vehicle belonged to a friend and that he was just fixing it for them.
LaMora said that Mook allegedly told the officers that the vehicle belonged to a friend and that he was just fixing it for them. Days later, the police returned to seize the side by side and received a written statement where he claimed it was his and he received it on trade for an $1,100 4-wheeler. According to LaMora, the value of the side by side was over $15,000. When asked who he traded with, Mook stated it was from an individual named Eric from Clay County. “His buddy Richard Nichols went down to make the trade for him,” LaMora stated.
It was then noticed that a hunting club sticker was on the windshield of the RZR, leading Cpl. Kopec to pull the hunting club files where he discovered the side by side showing up on Mook’s club applications after the vehicle was reported stolen.
Cpl. Kopec took the stand t where he provided an overview of the events to the jury as to how he came to discover the side by side. When he first ran the vehicle identification number collected from the unit, it did not appear to be stolen. He contacted Polaris to find out who bought that edition and discovered Hatfield and McCoy purchased more than one. He contacted the initial buyers who confirmed they had made the purchases, but sold one to Thrasher Engineering.
Thrasher owns a parcel of land on Flat Ridge Road where the side by side was stolen from their cabin. This parcel is located 1.89 aerial miles from the location it was found. They came to be owners of the RZR when the company went riding at the Hatfield and McCoy trail and one of the employees of Thrasher rolled the unit. The trail owners, who had just purchased that vehicle and it was the first time it was ridden, were upset with the accident and to remedy the situation, Thrasher offered to purchase the RZR.
Sergeant D.W. Burge was sworn in and testified that his main involvement was assisting Cpl. Kopec with the case. He took the oral statement from Mook when he claimed the side by side was being worked on for a friend.
Sergeant C.D. Siler followed offering information relating to the distance between where the vehicle was stolen from in comparison to where it was recovered. “If they’re saying it came from Eric in Clay County, somebody stole it and drove it 150 miles away, and then sold it to somebody who just happened to live less than two miles as the crow flies from where it was stolen,” LaMora stated.
Richard Nichols, also known as Paranoid, took the stand as the friend who Mook stated made the trade of the 4-wheeler for the side by side. When LaMora questioned R. Nichols about those events happening, he said that did not happen. He admitted he knew Mook and used to work with him even lived there at one time. When R. Nichols resided at the property in 2012 or 2013, the side by side was already on the property, though Mook claims the trade didn’t occur until 2016. R. Nichols did state that he took the 4-wheeler to Clay County but returned with cash in hand for the sale.
Next to testify was Richard Kozma who resides near the property owned by Thrasher and kept an eye on the property. He was the individual who discovered the missing side by side and found the door of the structure had been opened, allegedly by force. Kozma contacted the owners to question if friends or family had come to the property, which he was told they had not. He proceeded to call law enforcement to report the unit stolen at which time they conducted their initial investigation. LaMora asked Kozma the condition of the side by side which he stated there was a small scratch up on the top, but other than that it was fine.
Chad Biller, employee of Thrasher Engineering and operator of the side by side at the time of the accident at Hatfield and McCoy, was questioned about the incident. Biller stated that it happened early on in their day and they were able to operate the machine for the remainder of the trip. According to the driver, the only sign of damage was a scrape on the top of the roll bar. He noted that the total purchase price paid by Thrasher for the machine was $16,000, $800 of which went for delivery of the side by side.
LaMora asked Biller if during the time they had the side by side in their possession had they placed tape all over the accents. He stated they did not and that the particular model was a higher end unit.
The state finished with Patti Scott from the hunting club Mook was a member. Records were submitted to the jury as evidence and the state rested at that point.
P. Nichols called his first witness, Clayton McCrum, to the stand for questioning. According to LaMora, McCrum testified that he was present in 2016 when the side by side was dropped off and assisted loading the 4-wheeler that was headed to Clay County. His purpose of being at Mook’s residence was to drop off some belongings that were going to be kept at Mook’s because he was being evicted. When LaMora asked if his belongings were still at Mook’s residence, he replied, “Well I hope so.” McCrum also claimed he did not see any adhesive or tape on the side by side in 2016 when he saw the vehicle.
Mook’s step son-in-law Josh Snelson followed and stated that the 4-wheeler was being traded because it was Mook’s daughter’s who couldn’t control the racing bikes. Snelson claimed that when R. Nichols returned, he had in tow a significantly wrecked side by side that wasn’t operable. “He (Snelson) contradicted a lot of what Paranoid said,” LaMora commented. Snelson also claimed that McCrum was at the property to deliver a gun cabinet that Mook was going to refinish. He went as far as to say he didn’t agree with the color they chose for the cabinet, which was colonial oak.
LaMora continued to question Snelson on the condition of the side by side upon arrival.
He said the roll bar was completely dented and bent in, something a lot more of a scratch as previously mentioned. He also stated that the unit did have the adhesive and taping on it. Snelson then claimed that some of the other permits on Mook’s hunting club application were done so they could ride with their buddies. “So basically he’s stealing from the hunting club, he’s lying on his hunting club application,” LaMora said.
On day two, Patti Scott returned to the stand as a rebuttal witness to ask about the numerous hunting club permit requests per Snelson’s testimony. Mook exercised his right not to testify and was not called to the stand.
Closing statements were made by LaMora and P. Nichols before Judge Courrier gave a charge to the jury and they commenced to deliberate. Once a decision had been made, the jury found Mook not guilty on grand larceny and guilty for possession of a stolen vehicle. A pre-sentencing investigation will be conducted, until which time LaMora made a motion for Mook to be detained. That motion was denied and Mook will return on November 13 for sentencing which will include the findings from the PSI.