W.Va. mayor, police chief charged with embezzlement
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The mayor, former mayor, police chief and former clerk of a West Virginia city have been charged with embezzlement after an investigation into financial mismanagement and the misuse of federal funds meant to rebuild the city after a massive flood.
Officials on Friday announced the charges against Richwood Mayor Chris Drennen, former Mayor Bob Henry Baber, police Chief Lloyd Allen Cogar and former clerk Abigail McClung.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether those charged had attorneys. A city spokeswoman declined to comment.
State Auditor John B. McCuskey described his investigation as a whirlwind that began by looking at Baber’s purchasing card spending and quickly blossomed into a citywide accounting of where the more than $3 million in federal flood recovery money went.
Standing in Richwood City Hall before a crowd of angry residents Friday, McCuskey said much is still unclear.
“What we know is where they didn’t go,” he said of the federal dollars. “And anybody can walk down main street in Richwood and see where they didn’t go.”
He said that only about $400,000 of the federal money went toward flood recovery, with the rest unaccounted for.
Charging documents paint an unflattering picture of financial mismanagement across the city.
Cogar, the police chief, made what appear to be personal transactions with a governmental purchasing card, including an expenditure of more than $2,000 at a tire shop he owns, according to a criminal complaint. McClung, the former clerk, wrongly issued herself a check for 208 hours of vacation time before she left her city job.
The auditor’s report offered more damaging details.
The city didn’t keep track of the federal money, diverted funds away from their intended use and shelled out almost a quarter of a million dollars for consultants to help the city with the grant, according to audit. It also says Drennen and others were allowed unfettered discretion to pay themselves, family and friends nearly $500,000 after the flood.
In June 2016, thunderstorms drenched the region with as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain. A river that runs alongside Richwood swelled over, leading to flooding of more than 5 feet (1.5 meters). At least 23 people died, more than 200 homes were damaged or destroyed and infrastructure throughout the city was wrecked, according to the auditor’s report.
“While certain public officials touted the Richwood recovery as an example of what a small community can do if they pull together,” the report reads, “it may now find itself serving as an example of greed, dysfunction, and what not to do following a natural disaster.”