A Beckley firefighter was sentenced Wednesday to eight months in prison for committing mail fraud.

Michael Cowger, 50, fraudulently received more than $20,000 from the City of Beckley, West Virginia University, and Beaver Volunteer Fire Department.

Cowger served as a firefighter at the Beckley Fire Department, worked as a part-time instructor for West Virginia University’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and volunteered at the Beaver Fire Department, where he held the position of fire chief. Cowger admitted that he submitted reimbursement requests for supplies, travel, and training expenses to those entities, when he knew he had already sought reimbursements for the same expenses or another entity had already paid the expenses.

For example, Cowger used his West Virginia University Purchasing Card (“P-Card”), a credit card that WVU paid directly, to purchase gas and rent a vehicle for certain trainings, yet also requested mileage from the City of Beckley for those same trainings, falsely indicating that he used his personal vehicle for the same travel, when in fact he had used a vehicle rented via the P-Card.

Cowger also admitted that to complete his scheme, at times he created fictitious and duplicate receipts on his computer. He also admitted that he manipulated his hotel and training reservations and payments at times to ensure that he received two receipts with two different credit card numbers for the same events to conceal from the City of Beckley that he had used a WVU P-Card to pay for the events.

Cowger was ordered to pay restitution in the following amounts: $15,618.47 to the City of Beckley; $5,107.88 to West Virginia University; and $204.85 to the Beaver Volunteer Fire Department.

“As a first responder, Cowger held a position of trust. He abused that trust when he engaged in his fraudulent scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Stuart. “Although the resulting losses were not overwhelming in value, Cowger’s scheme to defraud was not a one-time occurrence, but rather an extended series of deceptions. Any amount of fraud or deceit committed by those in positions of public trust is always significant.”

Stuart commended the investigative efforts of the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations and the Beckley Police Department.U.S. District Judge Irene C. Berger imposed the sentence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Meredith George Thomas handled the prosecution.

 

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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