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Ex-Virginia transit chief pleads guilty to theft charge

The former head of a Virginia transit system has pleaded guilty to federal charges of stealing government funds, though he disputes the amount the government claims he misused.

Prosecutors had accused the man, 47, of the theft of more than $13,000, alleging that he used a credit card issued to him as head of the bus system in Roanoke, Virginia. Instead of using the card for business expenses, the government charged that he used it mostly to pay the tab for meals and drinks at restaurants both in and out of town. Of the funds, the man allegedly spent nearly $900 for greens fees at golf courses and an additional $171 for cigars.

The man appeared in U.S. District Court instead of state court. It was considered a federal crime because some of the money to fund the bus system came from federal transportation grants.

He told the judge that he does not believe the amount the government said he spent, claiming it was approximately $2,000. He said he plans to tell the court at his sentencing in September that he believed most of the expenses pertained to his job with the bus system.

Prosecutors, however, said that a report from an auditor showed he used his card to treat himself and friends at least 28 times.

A city auditor was sent to review the system's finances as part of a bid-rigging scandal, and the audit revealed the director's alleged improper expenses, according to prosecutors. The man was not implicated in the bid rigging, and a woman already has pleaded guilty to those charges.

After the audit, city officials fired the man from his job. He is free until his September sentencing, at which time the judge could sentence him to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Those penalties could be lessened should the man prove to the judge that he didn't misuse the amount of funds the government said he did.

Source: The Roanoke Times, "Roanoke bus exec admits misuse of funds," Laurence Hammack, June 2, 2012

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