A 41-year-old convicted felon from Oklahoma was arrested last week after allegedly spending five years fraudulently investigating crimes involving veterans for a state agency, the Daily Beast reported.
Steve Pancoast was charged with impersonating a police officer, perjury, and possession of a weapon, and accused of misrepresenting himself as the “chief investigator” for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (ODVA) — a job the agency said does not even exist.
“We do not have an investigative unit, we do not have an investigator,” a spokesperson for the agency said. “That’s a title that was never given by us.”
In reality, the agency said, Pancoast worked as a “safety programs administrator,” despite serving three years in prison on larceny and weapons possession charges in New Jersey in the 1990s. KOKH-TV reported that the agency did not learn about his criminal record while conducting its background check on him. He was fired following his latest arrest.
However, according to the Daily Beast, the department’s former director, John McReynolds, identified Pancoast by name in 2012 as an investigator into abuse allegations at the seven veteran centers in the state.
“In most cases we have investigators assigned to each facility who are trained to conduct lesser investigations,” McReynolds said at the time. “But if it requires someone outside the facility … then it goes to the administrator, who will call me and I’ll dispatch Mr. Pancoast to that location and he will initiate the investigation.”
Pancoast, who is currently free on bail, denied any wrongdoing in an interview with the Daily Oklahoman.
“Don’t believe everything you hear, man,” he said. “I’m saying it’s false. I really don’t want to be made out to be a bad guy because I’m not.”
Prosecutors said Pancoast identified himself as an ODVA investigator in multiple cases, including a drug possession case involving a former American Legion official that might have to be dropped because of his involvement. Another case in Cleveland County may have to be re-tried for the same reason. A spokesperson for Attorney General Scott Pruitt (R) said his office is re-evaluating all cases in which Pancoast participated.
Pancoast also conducted a six-month investigation into the death of Korean War veteran James Laughlin last October. Officials with the Norman Veterans Center initially said that Laughlin died from head trauma after falling out of his bed.
But according to Laughlin’s widow, Joan Laughlin, Pancoast obtained video showing him wandering into a room belonging to a patient who was prone to violent outbursts. Joan Laughlin said the footage also showed staffers at the Norman facility beating her husband.
She said she contacted the ODVA after she stopped hearing from Pancoast, and was told he had been fired.
“I’ll tell you what, he sure looked the part,” she said of the suspect. “He’s very official looking. He impressed me.”
The investigation into Pancoast’s activities began when an investigator from Pruitt’s office asked him to provide proof of his law-enforcement credentials. After initially saying he did not have his driver’s license or state-issued certificate, he later gave the investigator what he said was a photocopy of his certificate. The document was later found to be forged.
“There’s a screw-up there,” the suspect told the Oklahoman. “I’ve signed for my stuff a hundred times when I went to my training classes so I don’t know what that deal is.”
According to prosecutors, though, Pancoast gave the investigator a security guard certification card signed by a former official in 2008.
KOKH’s report on Pancoast’s arrest can be seen below.