Sophia, WV (WOAY)- A former volunteer fire chief in Raleigh County has pleaded guilty to 61 felony charges for stealing over $133,000 from the Sophia Volunteer Fire Department.
Former Chief of the Sophia Volunteer Fire Department, Kenneth Richard Churning, pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement, six counts of fraudulent schemes, 45 counts of falsifying accounts, and eight counts of conspiracy.
From July 2017 through December 2019, investigators discovered that Churning stole $118,509.47 from the fire department through ATM and cash withdrawals, $13,740 in cash back transactions, and $1,205.11 through personal expense reimbursement.
The theft makes up over 65% of all funding received by the Sophia Volunteer Fire Department during those two years.
The taxpayer dollars were meant to assist the department with providing emergency equipment to volunteer firefighters.
The West Virginia State Auditor’s Public Integrity and Fraud Unit worked with the Raleigh County Prosecutor, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office, and Sophia Police Department on this investigation.
Raleigh County Circuit Judge Robert Burnside, Jr. sentenced Churning to 4 to 35 years, suspended for four years of supervised probation.
Churning must also pay restitution for costs associated with the investigation of this theft, and the specific amount will be determined at a later date.
If Churning violates his probation or fails to pay restitution, he could be sent to prison to serve the 4 to 35-year sentence.