WV festival co-founder enters tax fraud plea - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV festival co-founder enters tax fraud plea

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Members of the Kanawha County Commission say they have "serious concerns" about the funds taken from the charity organizing Multi-Fest after the festival's executive director entered a guilty plea to income tax fraud.

Deborah S. Starks, 55, of Cross Lanes appeared in federal court Jan. 4, admitting she embezzled more than $300,000 from Multi-Fest from 2005-2010.

The Kanawha County Commission announced it would again review "any and all funding requests" that Multi-Fest received.

"The community and Multi-Fest deserve better," Commission president Kent Carper said in a media release. "If Multi-Fest is able to continue and wishes to receive funding in the future from the Kanawha County Commission, those running Multi-Fest will have to be strictly accountable and there must be honest people in charge."

Starks also admitted she failed to report more than half a million dollars worth of income on her taxes for each year from 2005-2010. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office, Starks did not report the embezzled funds as income.  

According to the stipulation of facts, Starks was the treasurer of the Charleston festival and she maintained the bank accounts. Starks would write personal checks to herself and third parties to support her gambling activities.

"I did not claim the money I should have," she told U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver. "I am very, very sorry."

She agreed to pay $306,872.04 to MultiFest and $128,626 to the Internal Revenue Service.

"Obviously, $300,000 is a substantial amount of money to any company, but it's especially significant to a small business or charity," U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said. "That's why my office has focused on investigating and prosecuting cases like these to protect such organizations and to send a clear message that such conduct will not be tolerated in this district."

Starks was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond but Copenhaver left her with one warning.

"You have a string of charges for worthless checks. If there is a single worthless check written, your bond is revoked," Copenhaver said.

She could face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced at 1:30 p.m. April 2.