Firefighter gets 3 years for fraud, embezzlement

December 26, 2018

HUNTINGTON — A former West Virginia cabinet secretary and firefighter was sentenced to serve more than three years in federal prison after he admitted he embezzled more than $178,000 from the Teays Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

Clifford Keith Gwinn, 64, of Hurricane, West Virginia, was sentenced in a Huntington federal court to serve three years and one month in federal prison last week, according to U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart. Gwinn previously pleaded guilty to theft from a program receiving federal funds and failure to report and pay over payroll taxes.

As part of his sentence, Gwinn was also ordered to repay $178,790 to the fire department and its insurer. He will also have to repay $68,281 to the Internal Revenue Service.

According to the information filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, Gwinn worked for the department from July 2011 through 2016. As part of his duties as vice president and fiscal officer, Gwinn was in charge of all financial affairs for the department, including paying bills, controlling paychecks, tax preparation and other duties.

During the period Gwinn embezzled funds, the Teays Valley VFD received grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which allowed the fire department to pay firefighters and to purchase and maintain equipment.

In 2013, Gwinn opened a second bank account for the VFD at a separate banking location, which he would use to transfer VFD funds into before writing checks to himself, unbeknown to and unauthorized by the fire department.

The account went unnoticed until November 2016.

In a second count, Gwinn admitted he failed to pay the Internal Revenue Service more than $78,000 in taxes the fire department had withheld from its employees’ paychecks in 2015 and 2016.

In January, his wife, Kathy Sue Gwinn, 62, pleaded guilty to theft from a program receiving federal funds, admitting to embezzling $75,356.70 from the department as a volunteer payroll clerk.

She was later sentenced to serve five weekends in a federal prison, home detention for 10 months and three years’ supervised release. She has also been paying $75,356.70 in restitution to the VFD, in installments of $50 per month.

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