Columbus

Columbus 

LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

Nearly eight months after his firing, a former Stillwater County weed district coordinator has been charged for using county equipment to spray private land, including that of a county commissioner.

William James Patterson was charged May 23 with felony theft and official misconduct, a misdemeanor.

He made thousands of dollars through one private spraying contract but used county chemicals and vehicles to complete the jobs, court documents state. Another deal to spray County Commissioner Dennis Shupak's land was allegedly in exchange for grazing space.

Patterson started as director of the county weed control district in February 2015. The Montana Division of Criminal Investigation started looking into the matter around June 2016.

Patterson was placed on leave when the investigation began. The county fired him in October 2016.

According to court documents, Patterson made a private contract with the Sunlight Ranch in Carbon County to spray for weeds over the summer of 2015.

The contract stated that Patterson would provide the equipment, including a truck, side-by-side, sprayer and ATV that belonged to the county.

The Sunlight contract paid $5,900 to Patterson, charges state. To complete the work, investigators estimated that he used $5,135 worth of county assets. That included chemicals and the time of a county employee, Rob Love, who was paid for county work hours for the job.

Court documents noted little of the spraying of Commissioner Shupak's property. Shupak told investigators that "he was unaware if Patterson was going to spray his property," court documents state.

They go on to say that "in general, Patterson had told Shupak he would spray the 2.9 acres where Patterson's horses were," charges state. Shupak could not be reached for comment.

In an email statement to The Gazette, Stillwater County Attorney Nancy Rohde said that "there was insufficient evidence to determine if Stillwater County Commissioner Dennis Shupak was aware that Patterson was using county equipment and resources on his property.”

Patterson told investigators that he used his own ATV to spray Shupak's property, charges state. But DCI found that Patterson bought his own ATV, identical to the county's, on the day after he was placed on leave.

Around the time Patterson was fired from Stillwater County, he was served charging documents from Cascade County. There, he was also charged with theft while holding a similar position as weed and mosquito district supervisor.

Cascade County court documents alleged that he took various items from the county after he was fired from there in 2014. He's scheduled to change his plea in that case later this month.

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General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.