Man pleads guilty in theft of war medals Thief promised to frame awards, returned replicas

November 21, 1995|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SUN STAFF

A former Carroll County government budget analyst pleaded guilty to five counts of felony theft yesterday in a scheme in which he stole more than $17,000 worth of military medals from county war heroes.

In each case, Stephen Van Rensselaer Pyne of Middle Grove Court in Westminster offered to frame the military honors for the veterans or their spouses. Most of the medals he returned were replicas, police said.

"All of these people who had these awards were very distinguished military personnel," said Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes. "These awards were given based on service to the country for committing acts of extreme heroism in combat. They have great sentimental value."

Pyne, who will face similar charges in Anne Arundel County on Dec. 11, resigned from his county job in August. Investigation into the Carroll County cases began last summer after Pyne was charged in Anne Arundel, prosecutors said.

"I feel like I'm missing something," said William J. McKenzie of Finksburg, who lost his Distinguished Service Cross and 10 other medals received as an Army corporal in World War II.

"I had a lump in my stomach not knowing whether he would get off," Mr. McKenzie said. "I really would like to get my medals back."

Mr. Barnes said yesterday that investigators in the prosecutor's office and the FBI are working to recover the medals for the victims in Carroll and Anne Arundel.

Many of those medals were probably sold out of state and may be out of the country by now, Mr. Barnes said.

Pyne, who has agreed to work with the investigators, remains free on his own recognizance so he will be available for questioning, Mr. Barnes said.

Other victims in Carroll were Mary E. Batten, who lost a Navy Cross and 17 other medals awarded to her deceased husband, Capt. Hugh N. Batten; and Earl D. Leppo, who lost his Silver Star and 11 other medals.

Pyne also admitted to stealing seven medals from Julie Ann Lockard that had been awarded to her deceased husband, Clarence Edward Lockard, and a Distinguished Service Cross and 11 awards from Joseph Wasco Jr.

"It's one thing I'm entitled to and I don't have it," said Mr. Leppo, who earned a Silver Star for crawling through enemy fire to throw grenades into a German bunker in World War II. "What I did was beyond the call of duty."

In exchange for the guilty plea yesterday, prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence of 10 years in prison on each count, with all but 18 months suspended.

Four of the sentences would run consecutively, for a total of six years at the Carroll County Detention Center, Mr. Barnes said. The fifth sentence would run concurrently to the other four, he said.

Mr. Barnes agreed not to prosecute an unrelated bad check charge against Pyne because he had paid $95.77 restitution to ** Lowe's in Westminster.

9- Pyne is scheduled for sentencing Jan. 22.

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