Charleston Man Sentenced to Prison for Defrauding Nonprofit Charity
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of West Virginia
Defendant Caused $871,288.34 Loss to Disaster Relief Charity
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Benjamin Cisco, 31, of Charleston, was sentenced today to three years and five months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay $871,288.34 in restitution for two counts of wire fraud. Cisco admitted to defrauding a disaster relief charity of $871,288.34 intended for suffering West Virginians.
According to court documents and statements made in court, from about March 19, 2020, through about September 28, 2022, Cisco devised and executed his scheme to defraud the charitable nonprofit organization while employed as its finance and operations manager in Belle and Charleston. Through his position, Cisco had control over the victim charity’s finances and access to its debit cards and regularly worked with its accountant. Cisco’s duties included preparing the victim charity’s biweekly payroll, depositing payments into its bank accounts, and providing its board of directors with updates regarding its finances.
Cisco admitted that his fraud scheme followed a two-step process. First, Cisco electronically transferred money from the victim charity’s debit cards to its account with the Flipcause crowd-funding platform, which recorded those transfers as donations. Second, Cisco electronically transferred money from the victim charity’s Flipcause account to his personal bank account, which he had falsely labeled as belonging to the victim charity.
Cisco admitted to executing the fraudulent two-step process more than 100 times. These fraudulent transactions included electronic transfers from the victim charity’s Flipcause account to his personal bank account in the amounts of $4,724 on January 28, 2022, and $2,874 on May 6, 2022. Both transfers traveled in interstate commerce between Charleston, West Virginia, and California.
Well-meaning individuals, seeking to assist the disaster relief charity, used the Flipcause portal to donate $3,861.94 to the victim charity. Cisco pocketed nearly all of those donated funds. The Court found that Cisco misrepresented acting on behalf of a charity during his scheme, citing that as a factor in today’s sentence.
Cisco’s fraudulent scheme specifically caused at least $518,101.70 of loss to the victim charity. Cisco also admitted to defrauding the victim charity of an additional $285,626.64 in travel reimbursements he was not authorized to receive and $67,560 by purchasing gift cards with victim charity funds without authorization. The loss totaled $871,288.34.
Cisco’s criminal conduct besmirched the reputation of the disaster relief charity, threatening to erode public trust and discourage potential donors. The discovery of Cisco’s scheme prompted the victim charity to put its operations on hold, pausing the replacement of eight bridges destroyed by flooding in southern West Virginia that provided families access to their homes.
“After spending six years with the victim charity, Mr. Cisco knew the real-life consequences of disaster but still chose to misspend the victim charity’s money on personal expenses, household items, Lowe’s gift cards, and luxurious vacations to Disney World,” said United States Attorney Will Thompson. “Mr. Cisco’s actions personified greed and the Court acknowledged that by giving him a sentence at the upper limit of the sentencing guidelines.”
Thompson made the announcement and commended the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
“Today Mr. Cisco faced the consequences of his illegal actions,” said FBI Pittsburgh Acting Special Agent in Charge Mike Shanahan. “Mr. Cisco diverted hundreds of thousands of dollars meant to help struggling West Virginians impacted by disaster for his own personal gain. Today's sentence sends the message that he can't escape accountability for his actions.”
United States District Judge Irene C. Berger imposed the sentence. Assistant United States Attorneys Holly Wilson, and Erik S. Goes, and Kathleen Robeson prosecuted the case.
A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia. Related court documents and information can be found on PACER by searching for Case No. 2:23-cr-25.
Updated January 11, 2024