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Multifest director Debbie Starks accused of tax evasion

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Federal authorities have accused the longtime executive director of Charleston's Multifest of lying on her tax forms.

Debbie S. Starks faces one federal count of fraud for reporting on the Individual Income Tax Return Form 1040 that she made $13,872 in taxable income in 2008 when she knew she made more, according to an information filed by U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin.

An information is a court document that generally indicates that a defendant is willing to cooperate with the government.

Signs that Multifest was having financial difficulty surfaced earlier this year, when Kanawha County commissioners agreed to pay the festival $11,500 after the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau slashed its budget for the event.

The commissioners, however, elected to pay the bill directly after discovering that Multifest's corporate status was revoked in 1999 and reinstated only last year. Secretary of State Natalie Tennant also sent Multifest organizers a letter in August 2011 saying that the festival was not properly recognized as a charitable organization and should not be soliciting donors.

Starks said in a special meeting with the commission that she thought the problems had been corrected. She called them a "mix-up," according to previous reports.

"It became obvious to me many months ago there was some disturbing information involving this individual," Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said Friday. "These matters need to be fully looked at. I certainly respect the U.S. Attorney's Office, Mr. Goodwin, for his swift action."

A phone number for Starks could not be located.

Starks has helped organize the city's annual late-summer multicultural festival since her husband, Stephen Starks, started the event in 1989.

She said in a 2001 Gazette-Mail interview that festival's budget grew from $3,000 when it started to more than $100,000 that year.

"Certainly having a festival like Multifest is a benefit to Charleston," Convention and Visitors Bureau President Alisa Bailey said. "It supports our brand of providing a hip music scene."

Starks faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Reach Zac Taylor at zachary.taylor@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5189.


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