Former office manager of Mountain State Justice sentenced to over four years in federal prison for embezzling more than $1.5 million and tax evasion
Defendant embezzled the money over nearly 12 years through stealing checks and using a secret account
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The former office manager of Mountain State Justice, Inc., was sentenced today to four years and six months in federal prison, announced United States Attorney Carol Casto. Kim Cooper, 55, of St. Albans, pled guilty to wire fraud and tax evasion on January 23, 2017, admitting that she had embezzled over $1.5 million from Mountain State Justice and evaded the payment of income taxes owed to the Internal Revenue Service.
Cooper began working in the late 1990’s in the Charleston office of Mountain State Justice, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides legal services for indigent and low-income West Virginia residents in civil cases. Cooper became the office manager and her duties included overseeing the daily operations of the Charleston office and making deposits of checks in Mountain State Justice’s bank accounts. In late June 2004, she opened an account at WesBanco Bank in the name of Mountain State Justice, which no one else at Mountain State Justice knew about. She began stealing checks made out to Mountain State Justice that were payment for attorneys’ fees and deposited the stolen checks in the secret WesBanco account. Cooper wrote checks from the secret account, payable to a close family member, with notations that made the checks appear to be payment for legitimate business expenses of Mountain State Justice. Cooper endorsed those checks by forging the signature of the close family member, and then deposited the checks in another account at a different bank. Cooper then transferred the stolen funds and used them to pay rent, make car payments, make credit card payments, and pay for other personal expenses.
Cooper also hid her crime by omitting these stolen checks from the cash log used to record all incoming monies and by hiding all incoming mail from WesBanco. She perpetuated her fraud scheme by sending false income statements to the board of directors of Mountain State Justice that underreported the income of the organization. Finally, Cooper evaded income tax she owed on the embezzled money. Cooper was able to keep this up for almost 12 years before the scheme finally ended in late March 2016, when she was interviewed by federal law enforcement agents. Her employment was terminated shortly thereafter.
The FBI and the IRS - Criminal Investigation division conducted the investigation. First Assistant United States Attorney Philip H. Wright is in charge of the prosecution. United State District Judge John T. Copenhaver, Jr., imposed the sentence.
Judge Copenhaver deemed the offense “particularly egregious” because Cooper committed this crime after she was convicted in Wood County in the late 1990’s for a financial crime that also involved embezzlement. Judge Copenhaver commented on the need to deter others from engaging in similar conduct as he sentenced her to the upper end of the sentencing guideline range, which was 46 to 57 months.
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