Cross Sentenced for Embezzlement From Fair Board
Michael John Cross, 35, of 124 Terry Lane, Sistersville was sentenced on Wednesday by The Honorable Judge David W. Hummel, Jr., to one to 10 years in the State Penitentiary for Men and ordered to make restitution in the amount of $23,396.50 plus $15,000 to the Tyler County Fair Association.
Cross had been indicted by the February 2015 grand jury on a one count felony indictment charging embezzlement by fraud. He had originally plead innocent to the charge but recently changed his plea to guilty. On Wednesday at the sentencing hearing Cross told the court he was sorry for his mistakes and he apologized to the fair board and citizens of Tyler County.
He said he wanted to make it right and would pay back every penny. He said he works and would use his checks to pay back the board. Hummel asked him how much he made and he said $15,000 per year and he gets back about $3,000 income tax that he would use to pay on the debt.
Hummel told Cross he had lied to the fair board, he had been deceptive, he was selfish and had committed criminal acts.
He said they were fraudulent acts that deprived the Tyler County Fair Association of badly needed fund. You told them you had applied for advertising grant money and that there was over $70,000 in their savings and checking accounts while they were really overdrawn.
Judge Hummel told Cross the pre-sentence report was over 500 pages long. He said he took time to read it and from the report the probation officer says you are a great candidate for probation. He says you have been honest and have cooperated fully, that you are willing to repay the full amount to the fair board. The prosecutor has been willing to work with you as well and you have appeared to show remorse. Hummel than said however, I believe you are a snow job. I don’t believe for one minute you are remorseful, I believe you are a criminal.
“A drunk couldn’t do this but a criminal could.” he said.
Hummel said, in fact you lied to the fair board and smiled and laughed and told them you were getting them more money when actually they were on the verge of bankruptcy. You deceived them and you took from children and families and the citizens of Tyler County. Hummel said, “When I think of county fairs I think of children riding rides and playing games and grandma’s quilting. What you did were selfish, deceptive criminal acts, you wrote over 100 checks to your self, was the fair board negligent, did the banks cash some checks maybe they shouldn’t have? Probably! but you committed the criminal acts.”
“Snow Job Cross” Hummel said. He then stated as fair board treasurer you violated the trust they placed in you and I am going to read to you a letter I received from the fair board.
The Tyler County Fair Association is a non-profit organization that has a sole purpose of putting a county wide agricultural fair on for the citizens and children of Tyler County. The money that is generated from the fair comes from these citizens and the businesses within the local community for the benefit of providing the best county fair possible. The defendant Michael Cross, has taken funds from every citizen and business that have supported the Tyler County Fair Association during his tenure as fair treasurer. The Tyler County Fair Association was financially impacted by these actions forcing us to cut spending to put on the county fair in the immediate year after the financial impropriety. We cut funding for entertainment and capital improvements to the grounds to dig out of the hole that was left by the former treasurer.
We want to expand on some of these issues regarding Cross and how the deception occurred over the course of his last two years in office. Cross presented financials and cash balances to the fair association on a semi-monthly basis of which were totally fictitious and fraudulent in nature. The last report being given only weeks before the discovery of missing funds. The report given stated that the fair had around $70,000 between savings and checking accounts. Only to find out from the bank that our account was overdrawn. In addition to the account being overdrawn we had numerous vendors with unpaid bills that totaled approximately $20,000. In years past, the fair president had always picked up all mail and distributed bills and bank statements to the fair treasurer. Under Mr. Cross’s tenure, he changed this as a courtesy to the president and would pick-up all mail from the post office; therefore, the president did not have knowledge of the bank statements or bills. In addition, Mr. Cross changed many actual vendor bill addresses to his own personal addresses. Another instance of deception was the filing of the IRS Form 990 Non Profit tax return, which has always been completed by Brenda Botizen, CPA. After the discovery of this embezzlement it was also discovered that Mr. Cross had not sent any of the financial information to the accountant for filing, but instead informed the accountant that the former treasurer was going to file the IRS tax return for the fair association, which was a fictitious statement. This shows the deception that was going on to try and hide the embezzlement. If the information would have been filed with the CPA it likely would have been discovered earlier.
On another note not related to the monetary damages shown or paid by the insurance company is lost proceeds from a state of West Virginia advertising grant. On many occasions the fair board asked Mr. Cross if he had filed the advertising grant with the state and his response was yes it had been filed and we had received funds from the state for this grant. After investigation the board was made aware the grant had not been filed and the timeline to file had expired and the fair association was ineligible to file. This was over a period of three years and each year being $5,000 in eligible funds or $15,000 total.
The Tyler County Fair had placed Mr. Michael Cross in a position of trust and had checks and balances in place to some extent, but with the deception that occurred by Mr. Cross these were all compromised. When the discovery was made of the financial impropriety, the Tyler County Fair Association was technically bankrupt as liabilities exceeded all current assests. The Tyler County Fair Association has rebounded financially and did not face closing because of the support of the local citizens and the hard work of the fair board members to see the fair continue through this financial impact. The Tyler County Fair Association has learned many lessons from this incident and has strengthened the checks and balance system in place as to try and prevent any future financial impropriety.
The Tyler County Fair Association would like you to consider that the crime that was committed against this organization is not just a non-profit entity with no stakeholders, but an organization that is supported by those that attend and participate in the fair every year. Tyler County Fair will celebrate it’s 52nd year this August and with an annual estimated attendance of 20,000 people, the loss of the county fair would have been devastating financially to the entire community.
After reading the fair board letter, Judge Hummel asked Cross if he had anything further to add. Cross said, “I don’t know what else to say, it’s accurate.” Hummel than proceeded to pronounce sentence, he ordered Cross to make restitution to the fair board for $23,396.50, plus $15,000 lost due do his deception about the grants and another $2,500 to the state board of risk to cover the fair board’s deductible. Cross was then sentenced to one to 10 years in the state penitentiary for men with credit for time served. He was remanded to begin serving is sentence.