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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                                                                                          March 13, 2013                   

FORMER PINEVILLE OFFICIAL PLEADS GUILTY IN CONNECTION WITH EMBEZZLEMENT SCHEME

Phillips-Ellis admits to stealing more than $80,000 from the Town of Pineville

BECKLEY, W.Va. – A former Pineville, West Virginia official pleaded guilty in connection with an embezzlement scheme that took more than $80,000 from the Town of Pineville, announced U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.  Brandee Denise Phillips-Ellis, 30, of Pineville, Wyoming County, W.Va., pleaded guilty to theft concerning programs receiving federal funds.  Phillips-Ellis admitted that between March 2009 and December 27, 2011, she stole a total of more than $80,000 from the Town of Pineville.  Phillips-Ellis was employed as the city manager and recorder for the Town of Pineville at the time of the scheme. 

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, “When people abuse a position of trust and steal from public coffers, they’re not just breaking the law---they’re ultimately hurting citizens who count on public services.”  Goodwin continued, “People who attempt to steal from the public till will be caught and they will be punished.” 

During January 1, 2010 and December 31, 2010, the Town of Pineville received benefits in excess of $10,000 under the Safe Routes to Schools Program, a federal aid program administered by the United States Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration. 

Phillips-Ellis admitted that she used twelve Town of Pineville checks totaling $14,649.83 to pay her husband’s personal credit card bills.  The defendant further admitted that she wrote and cashed fraudulent reimbursement checks on Town of Pineville accounts, keeping $3,295.56 for herself.   Additionally, Phillips-Ellis wrote eleven Town of Pineville payroll checks to herself totaling $20,427.50.  Phillips-Ellis further admitted that she cashed a Town of Pineville check for $4,569.58 and used the proceeds in connection with the personal purchase of a car.

Phillips-Ellis also admitted that during her employment at SAFE Housing and Economic Development, Inc. (SHED) in McDowell County, West Virginia, she falsified documents in order to receive $36,380 in payments as a vendor that she was not entitled to receive.  Phillips-Ellis was a full-time employee at SHED from about April 2006 through May 2009.  Phillips-Ellis also worked part-time for the organization from May 2009 until December 2011.  SHED is a non-profit organization that provides housing opportunities to low income first-time homebuyers.

In total, Phillips-Ellis admitted that she embezzled $80,489.96 from the Town of Pineville and SHED.
Phillips-Ellis faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced on June 25, 2013by United States District Judge Irene C. Berger.   

The investigation was conducted by the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations.  Assistant United States Attorney Eumi Choi is in charge of the prosecution.  

This case is being prosecuted as part of the U.S. Attorney's Initiative to Combat Theft of Government Benefits launched in June 2008.  The Initiative is designed to protect public funds and to prosecute those who steal benefits from public programs or agencies.       

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