A judge has dropped one of the two felony charges filed against the head of the Green Bay Levee and Drainage District in southeast Iowa. District Court Judge Cynthia Danielson said this month that the statute of limitations had expired on the charge of Theft in the First Degree against Mike Pieper.
Pieper is accused of stealing dirt from nearby property owners for use on a levee restoration project and then changing the minutes from a drainage district board meeting to cover up the alleged theft.
Danielson said, in her four-page ruling, that "the state has not met its burden to show that the statute of limitations under Iowa Code 802.3 should be tolled under Iowa Code 802.6(2). Therefore, the statute of limitations for Count II, Theft in the First Degree, has expired."
At issue is when the clock started on the filing of charges.
According to court records, Pieper told his fellow drainage district board members, in 2011, that a company he owned intended to bid on a levee restoration project the district was undertaking. Pieper's company won the roughly $1.75-million contract.
It was allegedly discovered in mid-2012 that Pieper's company used the dirt in question without permission. The original value of the dirt was listed at $93,000, but in Danielson's ruling, the value was listed at more than $500,000.
Pieper argued that "an indictment for a felony is subject to a three-year statute of limitations and in this case, the trial information was filed more than three years after the State asserts Defendent's conduct occurred."
Lee County Attorney Mike Short countered noting an exception in state code which states "the time within which an indictment or information must be found shall not include the time during which the Defendent is a public officer or employee and the offense arises from misconduct relating to the duties and trust of that office or employment."
Short added that since Pieper did not leave the Green Bay Levee and Drainage District until Jan. 17, 2015, the charge was brought in a timely manner.
Judge Danielson said in her ruling, "although [Pieper] was both on the Board and owner of MEPCO during the time that MEPCO bid for, won, and carried out the contract from the Green Bay Levee & Drainage District, the alleged theft of the dirt is unrelated to Defendent's duties for his role on the Board."
She did rule that the one count of Felonious Misconduct in Office could proceed.
Pieper is accused of changing the minutes of a Drainage District board meeting to show that his company had received permission from the board to remove the dirt and use it on the levee.
An investigation by the Lee County Sheriff's Office and the FBI allegedly revealed an original draft of the minutes did not include the motion to allow MEPCO to use the dirt. Nor did a video recording of the meeting mention the motion in question.