Institute fire department official pleads guilty to embezzlement
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A 74-year-old Dunbar woman faces up to 20 years in prison for stealing money from an alumni organization and a volunteer fire department.
Ethel Andrews pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement in Kanawha Circuit Court Monday. Two other charges were dismissed in exchange for that plea.
She served as treasurer of the Kanawha Valley Alumni Chapter of West Virginia State University and also of the Institute VFD beginning in 2000. The allegations surfaced in 2011. She was criminally charged last year.
Andrews stole almost $25,000 from the alumni group and $33,000 from the fire department. She said she wrote unauthorized checks to herself from both groups to send money to a so-called transfer agent who promised she would receive a monetary award.
The former treasurer wore a large silver cross around her neck at the hearing before Circuit Judge Carrie Webster. She could be sentenced to one to 10 years on each embezzlement count.
"Oh, dear," she said when the judge explained that penalty to her.
"If I should come up with the money that I've taken from these organizations within the next months, would that have any way of waiving some of this?" she asked Webster.
"Restitution will likely be made part of any disposition," the judge told her. "And the court would look favorably on that."
But defense attorney John Sullivan said there isn't much chance that Andrews can actually repay the funds. Her only income is from Social Security and a state pension.
Sullivan said, "I've made her aware that the time for negotiations is over, and even if she makes full restitution she would still be a convicted felon.
"The sum is $58,000 and there is no source of funds to come in the near future to enable her to pay that," he said.
"I am guilty of embezzling on the two counts against the different organizations," she said. "I took the money under false pretenses without the permission of the board of directors. I used it in this scam."
Andrews said she took the money from both groups from 2008 through 2010.
She said she wrote herself a number of checks and purported to use the funds for fundraising projects. Instead she sent money repeatedly to groups called Global International and Worldwide International.
She had been contacted, she said, and told money would be coming to her if she paid certain fees first. She never received any money.
The judge said she wanted to be sure the West Virginia Attorney General's Office had been notified and would investigate the scammers that Andrews sent money to.
The Kanawha County Commission investigated the theft of money from both organizations and turned its findings over to the county prosecutor.
The county temporarily cut its funding to the VFD after the embezzlement allegations and until a fiscal audit was conducted. Later, as a result of that misuse of funds, the county changed its policy on grants to VFDs and required more detailed forms and accounting.
Andrews often wrote to the Daily Mail in praise of West Virginia State University and appealing to graduates to donate to the alumni group.
"It costs money to provide academic programs and student support," she wrote in 2001. "When you have benefited by your college education, it seems only fitting that you should want to give back to your alma mater.
"Alumni must find time to give back," she wrote. "Alumni must be gracious. Alumni must be generous."
Andres will be sentenced next month.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at email@example.com or 304-348-4832.