Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 15, 2013

Wyoming County woman pleads guilty in embezzlement scheme

PINEVILLE — A Wyoming County woman has pleaded guilty in connection with an embezzlement scheme that took funds from a program in McDowell County designed to finance low-income housing as well as money from the town of Pineville

Brandee Denise Phillips-Ellis, 30, of Pineville, pleaded guilty on Wednesday to theft concerning programs receiving federal funds, according to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of West Virginia, Booth Goodwin.

Phillips-Ellis admitted that during her employment at SAFE Housing and Economic Development Inc. (SHED) in McDowell County, she falsified documents to receive $36,380, according to Goodwin.

Goodwin said Phillips-Ellis worked full-time at SHED between April 2006 and May 2009, and then held a part-time position with the organization from May 2009 to December 2011. During both periods she embezzled money from the agency, according to Goodwin.

SHED is a non-profit organization that has been working to provide housing opportunities to low-income and first-time homebuyers in McDowell County since 1997. The organization has made home loans to 27 families and helped find lodging for numerous others.  The organization manages several facilities in McDowell County including Starland Heights, the Elizabeth Drewry Apartments, the Oaks Apartments and the Payne Building.

Goodwin said Phillips-Ellis also admitted that between March 2009 and Dec. 27, 2011, she embezzled more than $80,000 from the town of Pineville while she was serving as town manager and town recorder, including $10,000 from the town’s Safe Routes to Schools Program. Goodwin said she also used 12 of the town’s checks to pay her husband’s personal credit card bills and cashed fraudulent reimbursement checks on town back accounts, keeping more than $3,000 for herself.

She further admitted to writing 11 town payroll checks to herself totaling more than $20,000 and also used a town check to finance the purchase of a personal vehicle, according to Goodwin. In total, it is estimated she embezzled $80,489.95 from the town of Pineville and SHED.

Phillips-Ellis faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, Goodwin said. She will be sentenced on June 25 before U.S. District Court Judge Irene C. Berger.

The investigation into the case was conducted by the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Eumi Choi is in charge of prosecution.

— Contact Kate Coil at kcoil@bdtonline.com

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