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Ex-treasurer admits embezzlement from Institute VFD, WVSU alumni group

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A woman who served as treasurer to both the Institute Volunteer Fire Department and a West Virginia State University alumni group admitted Monday to siphoning nearly $60,000 from the two organizations to pay for a mail-in service that turned out to be a scam.

Ethel Andrews, 74, pleaded guilty to two felony counts of embezzlement Monday before Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster.

"I used these funds to pay for an award offered by scammers," Andrews said. "I used it in this scam to pay the fees for these awards."

Andrews said that she wrote and cashed checks to herself, drawing about $25,000 from the fire department's account from 2009 to 2010. She said she used the money to pay fees for an "award" offered by what she thought were foreign companies.

The scammers told her that in exchange for the fee, they would transfer a much larger sum into her bank account in Charleston.

Andrews also served as the treasurer of the Kanawha chapter of the West Virginia State University Alumni Association. She said she drew $33,000 from the group from 2008 to 2010 to pay for the same scam. She said the companies involved in the scam were named "Global International" and "Worldwide International."

Webster suggested that prosecutors should refer the scam to the state Attorney General's office.

Andrews asked Webster on Monday if the judge could drop the charges if she came up with the money. Webster said that restitution will be determined during the pre-sentence investigation, but explained that any plea agreement would not be reversible, barring extraordinary circumstances.

Andrews' lawyer, John Sullivan, told the judge that Andrews is not going to be able to pay back the two organizations anytime soon. Andrews said she is on Social Security and confirmed that she wanted to go ahead with the plea.

In October 2011, Kanawha County commissioners ordered an investigation into the Institute VFD after a state audit turned up evidence of fraud. Law enforcement officials confirmed then that they had begun a probe into Andrews' alleged misdeeds.

"It is important to remember that this is an isolated incident and should not reflect upon the hundreds of volunteer fire fighters in Kanawha County," County Commission President Kent Carper said in a press release Monday.

Officials representing the West Virginia State alumni group could not be reached for comment Monday.

Andrews will be sentenced March 21.

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


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