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Press Release

Former Cherryville Police Chief Charged With Embezzlement

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of North Carolina
United States Attorney Anne M. Tompkins Western District Of North Carolina

Former Chief “Woody” Burgess Has Agreed To Plead Guilty

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The former Police Chief for the City of Cherryville has been charged with one count of program embezzlement, announced Anne M. Tompkins, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Woodrow Paul Burgess “Woody Burgess,” 60, of Cherryville, N.C. has agreed to plead guilty to the charge.

John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division and Greg McLeod, Director of the State Bureau of Investigation (NC SBI) join U.S. Attorney Tompkins in making today’s announcement.

According to the criminal bill of information and plea agreement filed today in U.S. District Court, Burgess was the Chief of Police for the City of Cherryville until his retirement in October 2012. During the relevant time period, Bonny Alexander, was Cherryville’s Finance Director, and had authority to process payroll payments to Cherryville employees, direct payments for city expenses and issue checks on behalf of the city. According to court records and the filed plea agreement, Burgess embezzled and caused Alexander to embezzle approximately $11,048 of the city’s funds. Court records show that beginning in January 2007 through November 2008, Burgess instructed Alexander to issue approximately nine Cherryville city checks payable to “The Great Outdoors, Inc.” for the purchase of firearms for Burgess’ personal use. According to the charging document, Burgess told Alexander that the checks and the expenditure of the City’s funds for personal use had been authorized as a “cash-out” for “compensatory time.” Court records indicate that Alexander issued the checks as requested by Burgess and placed entries in the City’s accounting records that the expenditures were for a certain amount of “sick time” or “comp time” due to “Woody.” According to court documents, Burgess was aware that he was not entitled to cash payments for sick or vacation leave or compensatory time. In addition, Burgess knew that no hours were deducted from his sick or vacation leave balances for the City’s purchase of guns for his personal use.

The bill of information contains a notice of forfeiture, which gives notice that the defendant must forfeit to the United States all property and currency involved in the offense charged in the charging document, and all property and currency which are proceeds of such offense, including approximately $8,490 in cash, and three firearms seized during the course of the investigation.

“Woody Burgess was sworn to uphold the law but instead thought he was above the law. While prosecuting a law enforcement officer is always difficult, my Office will not allow the likes of Woody Burgess to dishonor the uniform proudly worn by all other Cherryville police officers who are dedicated to serving and protecting their community,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins.

“It is both disappointing and disheartening to learn a senior law enforcement officer took advantage of his trusted position for his own profit. Public corruption is the number one criminal priority of the FBI and we will continue to work aggressively to hold public officials of all levels accountable, especially those who erode the public’s trust in those who have sworn to protect and serve others,” said Special Agent in Charge John A. Strong, of the FBI in Charlotte.

“Our agents are dedicated to finding the truth and bringing criminals to justice, and this case is an excellent example of the work that they do,” said SBI Director Greg McLeod. “We’ll continue our efforts to solve crime, root out public corruption, and protect the people of North Carolina.”

Burgess has agreed to plead guilty to one count of program embezzlement, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both. Burgess’ initial appearance and plea hearing have been set for Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at 2:00 p.m. According to the filed plea agreement, Burgess has also agreed to pay full restitution the amount of which will be determined by the Court at sentencing.

In January 2013, Alexander pleaded guilty to five counts of program embezzlement for stealing over $435,000 from the City of Cherryville. She faces a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine per count. A sentencing date for Alexander has not been set yet.

The investigation is handled by the FBI and SBI. The prosecution is handled by Michael Savage, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte.

Updated March 19, 2015