CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Multifest organizer Stephen Starks said Tuesday that he will continue in a leadership position on the event's board despite his wife having admitted to stealing more than $300,000 from the festival's books.
In light of assertions from public officials that they will halt funding for Charleston's late summer multicultural festival unless Stephen and Deborah Starks are ousted, and indications from other sponsors that they will support the event as it "reorganizes," Starks said he would maintain a background role as a Multifest board member.
"We're anticipating that we certainly plan on having Multifest," Starks told the Gazette. "We have restructured our board and organization so that everyone can be assured that everything is appropriate."
Some sponsors were not specific about what type of reorganization of Multifest they would like to see.
Earlier this month, Starks' wife, Deborah, pleaded guilty to tax evasion charges and admitted to embezzling $306,872 from Multifest from 2005 to 2010. Federal prosecutors said Deborah Starks, who was struggling with a gambling addiction, wrote and cashed personal checks to herself and directly transferred money from a Multifest bank account into her own.
Her guilty plea centered on one instance in 2008, when she reported that she earned only $13,872. Her husband signed off on the tax form, but did not help prepare it, she said during the plea hearing. He was not charged in the scheme.
Stephen Starks said that he has resigned from his post as president of Multifest and that the structure of the event's executive board has been reorganized. His wife will no longer be involved, he said.
Asked if he would consider completely severing himself from Multifest if sponsors demanded it, Starks said, "I don't know about that. I'm not going to answer that question."
"Again, I'm not charged with anything, I just want the best for Multifest. That's all I can say at this point," he said.
Charleston Mayor Danny Jones said Tuesday that the city, which spends an average of $12,500 a year on the event, would not support Multifest if Starks is serving in any organizational or official capacity.
"I can't imagine voting for more money for that event," Jones said. "Multifest took the city for a lot of money and that money belongs to the taxpayers."