By Brandi Underwood
Timothy Whittington, the former chief of the Smithers Volunteer Fire Department, was sentenced to one to 10 years in the penitentiary on Monday, the conclusion of a case more than three years in the making.
The case, presided over by Fayette County Circuit Judge Paul Blake, involved several years of Whittington’s illegal spending of fire department funds.
Whittington was charged with embezzling more than $7,400 from the department. A 2010 auditor’s report revealed more than $18,000 in misspent funds that were unallowable by law, lacked supporting documentation or were unauthorized.
Court documents show Whittington began using department funds for his personal expenses in July 2010. After questions arose regarding missing fire department funds and the department being notified of an impending audit, Whittington contacted the auditor in May 2011 and said he had mistakenly confused personal and department bank account numbers when using electronic bill pay.
Whittington stepped down from his position in February, in consultation with the West Virginia State Police, who handled the investigation. In May, Whittington and wife Patricia pleaded not guilty to felony charges of embezzlement and fraud, respectively. However, in August, Timothy pleaded guilty to embezzlement in exchange for dropping charges against his wife.
According to Roger Lambert, Fayette County assistant prosecuting attorney, Whittington did pay back a large portion of the funds that he embezzled after taking out a loan, but the fact remained that Whittington had used fire department funds as his own personal bank account, paying his car, water and insurance bills with the funds, which is a felony offense.
Lambert said that while it may be deceivingly attractive to some individuals with access to state funds to take a dip in, the state auditing process will eventually reveal those actions, as it did in Whittington case.
“Although the auditing process didn’t completely prevent the embezzlement from occurring, it did help to stop the situation before the magnitude increased,” Lambert said.
He also added that Whittington was apologetic for his actions, appearing visibly “distraught” after receiving his sentencing.
Whittington was remanded to Southern Regional Jail.
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