UPDATE 2/4/13 @ 12:45 p.m.
INSTITUTE, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The former Treasurer of the Institute Fire Department has admitted to stealing thousands of dollars.
Monday morning, Ethel Andrews pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement.
Andrews stole about $25,000 from the fire department. She also admitted to taking another $30,000 from West Virginia State University's Kanawha Valley Alumni Association.
Andrews told the judge she took the money because she got caught up in a phone and mail scam.
Sentencing for Andrews has been schedule for March 21.
County leaders say this is a bigger problem than first thought.
As far as commissioners can tell, this is all tied to former treasurer Ethel Andrews, who's not with the department anymore.
Commissioners talked about the issue Thursday night at a meeting.
The county is paying for an audit of the department. Commissioners have seen preliminary results of the audit.
Auditors found from August 2009 to July 2010, the treasurer wrote 56 checks to “cash,” totaling $20,526. They also say there were two checks written to Andrews totaling $1,480.
There were also some purchases at a hardware store for things that can't be found at the department and work being done on cars not owned by the department.
"The almost denial they were in until recently when it was brought to their attention, and to me just the fact that it appears to me to be a lot of discrepancies on everything from fuel use to vehicle repair. It's more than just what the legislative audit said," says Commission President Kent Carper.
A state audit first put this issue in the public spotlight.
One of the department's board members was at Thursday's meeting but wouldn't answer any questions until the full audit comes back.
The county expects to get the full audit in the next seven days.
The sheriff's department is investigating fraud allegations after a state audit found less than $2,000 of state taxpayer money was misused or missing.
During a Kanawha County Commission meeting Tuesday, the department's board members said a former member actually misappropriated more than $24,000 of public money, when funds beyond what the state allocates are included.
The county is appointing someone to oversee the audit, which the department was already working on having completed.
But, department leaders say they’re trying to address the problems.
"We're just trying to get back to business as usual at the fire department," Chief Patrick A. Higginbotham says.
Department officials say the issues are tied to the former treasurer, Ethel Andrews, who’s no longer with the department.
The department is working to have better oversight, its leaders say. But, commissioners say that's not the only problem.
"It appears that the fire chief, at least on occasion, used a lot of fuel from a county fuel depot. We're going to have that looked into," Commission President Kent Carper says.
Chief Higginbotham responded to Carper, "It may be a little excessive. But, as chief I think I can stand and justify it. Maybe some of the costs were a little excessive, but we've taken the proper measures."
The commission is taking a measure of its own: cutting off grant funding for the department.
The agency is requesting a $10,000 public safety grant to replace broken equipment.
But, Carper says the department will get no more money until a full audit comes back showing what's right and what's not.
"It's public funds. We're going to find out," Carper says.
The county gave the department $20,000 last month to stay open. At the time, the department’s leaders said they had only several hundred dollars left.
Commissioners received some criticism about the move, including from other fire departments, Carper says.
Even with the fraud allegations, Carper says he didn't want the department to shut down and affect services for the community.
An audit conducted by the West Virginia State Legislature found that $1,799.51 of state funding was misused by the department between July, 1 2009 - June 30, 2010.
The audit reveals that $1,421 was used for unknown purposes. According to the department's acting treasurer, the former treasurer is suspected of fraudulently writing, and subsequently cashing a check worth $371 and another for $850. The checks were written out to cash and came from the state's account. There was also an Electronic Fund Transfer that was undocumented for $200.
Investigators say any check over $200 must be approved by the VFD's board, but those checks were not. The checks are also required to have two signatures, but the two checks were only signed by the former treasurer.
The audit also found that the department used $378.51 to buy cable TV service. The state's money can not be used for that purpose.
The legislative audit recommends that the VFD initiate better internal control, discontinue writing checks for cash, and pay the state back $1,799.51. They also suggest that a CPA conduct an audit of all other accounts.
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