Wednesday, November 19, 2014

83-Year-Old Man Guilty Of Embezzling $100K From Volunteer Fire Company In Virginia

From WAVY Ch. 10 on 11/18/2014:

On Tuesday, an Accomack County judge found the former treasurer of the Onley Volunteer Fire and Rescue Company guilty of embezzling money from the company.

83-year-old James Morris entered an Alford plea of guilty to one count of embezzlement. The plea means he does not admit guilt, but acknowledges prosecutors have enough evidence to convict him.

Fire Chief Christopher Davis, who was scheduled to testify if the case went to trial, remembered the start of the investigation.

“We met with the state police, hired a book-keeper and began sorting through and uncovering just how large the scale of this was,” Davis said.

Prosecutors said Morris took close to $100,000 from the fire company between 2008 and 2012. Davis said he talked to Morris about it.

“By his admission, he had taken a significant amount of money,” Davis said. “He told us that he had permission, and it was a loan, but at some point, it became unmanageable. He had taken more than he could manage to pay back.”

If the case had gone to trial, witnesses would have testified that Morris said the money was taken as a loan, verbally approved by a former president of the fire company, used to pay off credit card debt, according to court documents.

When WAVY News went to Morris’ home on Tuesday, he said he did not embezzle, and that the money was a loan.

“It’s a sad situation, because he certainly did not start out with the intent of taking that amount of money. Somewhere in his life, he felt like he was in a situation where he needed some money,” Davis said.

Morris’ attorneys, Adam Carroll and Stephen Pfeiffer, said the money Morris took was a loan that was not properly documented, but that Morris’ intent had always been to pay back the money. They said Morris put his initials next to items in the ledger.

If Morris pays back the fire company on schedule, he is not expected to face any time in prison, according to court paperwork. He owes approximately $121,000, which includes court costs, the plea agreement said.

“People trust us when we enter their homes and when we enter their businesses. When they’re having their worst day, we’re the ones that show up to help. So, it is demoralizing to know that an organization that’s supposed to be built on trust, honor, and duty, one of our own violated that,” Davis said.

Davis said the fire company has put safeguards in place and has checks and balances that are “two and three deep.”

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