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Former treasurer gets probation in fire department, alumni group embezzlement

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A woman who said that she was duped into stealing more than $60,000 from two volunteer groups to pay for a Jamaica-based mail scam will spend two years on probation.

Ethel Andrews, 74, the former treasurer for both the Institute Volunteer Fire Department and the Kanawha chapter of the West Virginia State Alumni Association, pleaded guilty earlier this year to two felony counts of embezzlement.

She said that she wrote and cashed checks to herself to pay for a mail-in sweepstakes that turned out to be a scam.

"I did do that and I know I am guilty of that," Andrews said Thursday.

Since about 2006, Andrews said she had been receiving calls from agents representing companies called "Global International" and "Worldwide Sweepstakes". The agents asked the woman to put up a small investment and promised returns of at least $5 million.

Andrews explained that she spent her entire nest egg -- some $150,000 - on the scam. When she ran out of money, she began dipping into the other accounts.

Andrews believed "her windfall was going to be so huge that everybody would be made better than whole," her lawyer, John Sullivan said Thursday.

The woman stole about $25,000 from the fire department and about $33,000 from the alumni group.

Representatives of the two organizations did not attend Thursday's sentencing. Institute VFD officials have said that Andrews had a bond against her to cover any losses, even though state law does not require people who handle money for public agencies to have a bond to cover any potential malfeasance.

Sullivan said Thursday that while doctors have found that Andrews is in a sound mental state, he believes she may again give in to the scammers if she gets her hands on any more money in the future.

Andrews said that she turned off her cell phone and hid it in her house. Before she made attempts to cut off communications with the scammers, she said, they would call her several times a day.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Carrie Webster ordered Andrews to disconnect her cell phone and forbade her from contacting the scammers again. The judge also barred her from serving as a volunteer in a position where she would have control over finances.

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


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