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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of West Virginia

Friday, January 4, 2013

Multifest Executive Pleads Guilty To Federal Income Tax Fraud

Starks admitted to stealing more than $300,000 from the Charleston-based organization

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced today that a Charleston festival executive director pleaded guilty in federal court to income tax fraud.  Deborah S. Starks, 55, of Cross Lanes, W.Va., admitted that she filed a false tax return in connection with an embezzlement scheme that drained more than $300,000 from MultiCultural Festival of WV, Inc. (“MultiFest”), a Charleston-based non-profit organization.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said, "Ms. Starks failed to report more than half a million dollars of income on her taxes. More than $300,000 of that unreported income was stolen by her from the charity that puts on Multifest each year.”

Goodwin continued, “Obviously $300,000 is a substantial amount of money to any company, but it's especially significant to a small business or charity.  That's why my office has focused on investigating and prosecuting cases like these to protect such organizations and to send a clear message that such conduct will not be tolerated in this district."

Starks was the treasurer of MultiFest at the time of the scheme.  MultiFest sponsors a music, arts and crafts, and dance festival held annually in Charleston. As treasurer, Starks was in charge of revenue and expenses for MultiFest and maintained the organization’s bank accounts.   

Starks admitted that beginning in or about 2005 and continuing until 2010, she embezzled approximately $306,000 from MultiFest. She also admitted additional unreported taxable income of approximately $200,000.  Starks further admitted that she wrote personal checks to herself and to other people, withdrew cash in the form of checks, and made ATM transactions from MultiFest bank accounts during the scheme.  Starks also admitted that the embezzled funds were used primarily to support her personal gambling activities. 

In addition to the embezzlement scheme, the defendant admitted that she prepared, signed and filed a joint U.S. Individual Income Tax Return for each of the calendar years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and did not report the embezzled funds as income. 

Starks has agreed to pay restitution to MultiFest in the amount of $306,872.04 and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in the amount of $128,626. 

Starks faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced on April 2, 2013 by United States District Judge John T. Cophenhaver, Jr.

This matter was investigated by the IRS. Assistant United States Attorney Eumi L. Choi is handling the prosecution.

This case is being prosecuted as part of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia’s Small Business Protection Initiative.  U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin announced the Small Business Protection Initiative in November 2010.  Small Business Protection is a key initiative of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia that focuses on the prosecution of individuals who defraud small West Virginia businesses located in the Southern District.

Updated January 7, 2015