12 Investigates tracks down tractor bought with Stimulus money

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - An update tonight to an NBC 12 investigation into your stimulus money.

The Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy told us it was trying to track down a 2004 Mack tractor cab and a John Deere excavator. They were purchased by the Richmond recycling company Cephas Industries using a half a million of your stimulus money. According to the Department of Mines (DMME), the company is not allowed to sell these items without government permission. It appears the truck is now titled out of state.

Cephas Industries was awarded half a million in federal stimulus money to build and operate a multi-million dollar recycling center on Formex Road. Ground was even broken in 2010 - with Richmond dignitaries celebrating. It was supposed to create 50 new "green" jobs.

Three years later: a padlock, a for sale sign, and empty lot. No new facility.

Cephas Industries eventually leased a building on Deepwater Terminal Road, but the company disappeared last December. The new renters tell us the debris in the back of the building was left behind by Cephas Industries. The new owners say they've had to clean up piles of cement and brick.

We even found Cephas recycling containers sitting on the property next door. Businesses in the area tell us the containers have been there since last December.

"It's not the desired outcome," said Al Christopher. He's with the DMME and he oversaw the stimulus project in Richmond.

DMME records show Cephas spent $230,000 of the stimulus dollars to buy the John Deere excavator and Mack tractor.

Christopher told us, when our story first aired, "the recipient is not supposed to sell any of the property that federal funds are used to procure. Without permission from this agency and the federal us department of energy."

That was last May. We've since got a hold of the tractor's VIN number from the DMME, and we took a few minutes to run a vehicle history report.

It shows that the tractor was re-titled in Earle, Arkansas last December. That's about the same time we found out Cephas Industries had stopped operating out of the Deep Water terminal site, the companies phone number no longer works and its website is offline.

According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, a vehicle can not be titled in two states. The last issued title is where the Mack truck is now registered.

We've tried multiple times over the last year to reach Mr. Cephas at his business and home. We got a hold of his cell number and called him.

We identified ourselves and asked for his side of the story. He declined to comment, and after several seconds of silence, he referred us to his attorney. We asked for his attorney's name and number and we were told his attorney, "would be in touch." That was over a month ago. We've waited and never received a call from anyone claiming to be Morris Cephas' attorney.

The department of Mines, Minerals and Energy asked us for a copy of the vehicle history report. Again, it shows the tractor is now re-titled in another state.

Once we provided that report, the DMME told us they are no longer commenting on Cephas Industries.

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