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Multifest director says event looking to bounce back

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Embarrassment over an embezzlement scandal, which threatens to cripple Multifest, is driving the event's board members to clean house, the festival's executive director said.

"It's very important for us to show our transparency and let our sponsors know we're going to do things the right way," Vicky Keene said Sunday.

Board members met Saturday night to discuss the importance of transparency and running the festival as a company, Keene said.

Last month, Deborah Starks, wife of former Multifest director Stephen Starks, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to tax fraud. Deborah Starks, who handled much of the financial activity for the festival, admitted that she embezzled more than $300,000 from Multifest between 2005 and 2010.

The festival board cut ties with the Starks, hired accountants Gray, Griffith & Mays to supervise finances and have scheduled weekly meetings to turn things around, according to Keene.

"There's no room to take a breath," she said. "After work [board members] are putting all of their time into Multifest - a lot of officials are on the phone until one-thirty, two in the morning.

"We're doing whatever it takes for Multifest to get back up and running."

The summer festival, held on the state Capitol grounds, relies mostly on corporate sponsorships. The city of Charleston and the Kanawha County Commission have also provided support.

But many sponsors, in light of the embezzlement, haven't said for sure if they plan to continue giving money.

"We've talked to the commission, and we're in the process of making appointments with Toyota and trying to get around to all of our sponsors," Keene said.

Saturday, board members found the organization's bylaws and reflected on the significance of the event.

"We dug through old things ... myself, I didn't even know bylaws existed," said Keene, who has been on the board for 15 years. "There's nothing else like Multifest in West Virginia - it's something that caters to the masses, not only black people or only white people, whatever nationality you may be."

"We have to make sure it's brought back correctly."

Community members are encouraged to attend meetings to plan this year's festival. There's a meeting at 7 p.m. today at Keene's home. She can be reached at 304-590-2535. Also, there's room for three additional board members.

"I told everyone at the meeting last night, if you think you want to become part of the board I'm more than happy to interview you, but we have to make sure you're fit," Keene said. "We can't allow what happened before to happen again."

Reach Kate White at kate.white@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1723. 


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