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Financial Crime: Chugga-chugga-cheat: Vintage train buff guilty of ripping off National Park Service in $860K project to restore 1923 train car

He’s got the train buff blues now.

The owner of a Wyoming antique train repair business has been found guilty of ripping off the National Park Service by failing to do work that he billed the government for in an $860,000 project to restore a 1923 train car.

Train buff John Rimmasch, 47,  had been the chief executive of Wasatch Railroad Contractors in Shoshoni, Wyoming since it was founded in 2005. In 2016, the company won a contract from the park service to restore a 1923 suburban coach car from the Central Railroad of New Jersey.

The car was to be used for passenger rides at the Steamtown National Historic Site in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

A key part of the contract specified that asbestos be removed from the car and be disposed of properly. As part of his bid, Rimmasch said he had experience removing such material and had contractors ready to do the work, according to court documents. 

But federal prosecutors say Rimmasch and Wasatch never actually removed the hazardous material even though he submitted tens of thousands of dollars worth of bills for that part of the job. Prosecutors say that not only did Rimmasch rip off the park service, he endangered the workers he brought in to do the rest of the restoration.

On Monday, a federal jury in Cheyenne, Wyoming found Rimmasch and his company guilty of five counts of wire fraud and one count of knowing endangerment. He faces up to 115 years in prison and fines of up to $1.5 million when he is sentenced in July.

Rimmasch’s attorney, Hank Bailey, said his client and Wasatch have “done outstanding work in the railroad industry in Cheyenne and throughout the country over the past almost twenty years.”

“Naturally, we are disappointed in the outcome of the case, but we accept and respect the hard work done by the jury in reaching its decision, and we’re now working on next steps in the judicial process,” Bailey said.

In 2020, Rimmasch and his company lost a civil suit brought by the McCreary County Heritage Foundation in Kentucky. The foundation had hired him to restore an historic steam locomotive for the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, but alleged he had done shoddy and incomplete work. An arbitrator ordered Rimmasch to pay $730,000 in damages, according to court papers.  

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