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Prosecutor to begin Aurora criminal probe

July 29, 1999|By DAVE MCMILLION

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The probe into the Aurora Foundation for possible misuse of funds of those deemed unable to handle their own finances was turned over to the Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney's Office Wednesday for investigation.

Berkeley County Circuit Judge David Sanders ordered the case to be referred to Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely following a hearing in Berkeley County Circuit Court.

Aurora was established to handle the finances of people who are unable to handle their own affairs. But an estimated $200,000 belonging to 33 of Aurora's mental-health clients in the Eastern Panhandle is missing, according to those involved in the case.

Greg Gamble, the former head of Aurora, has agreed to cooperate with federal investigators and realizes he likely will face criminal charges, according to his attorney, Craig Manford of Martinsburg.

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Gamble has not been present for any court hearings on the matter, but he attended a meeting Monday at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources in Martinsbrug to discuss the situation, said attorney John Askintowicz, who was appointed to represent Aurora's clients during the probe.

Gamble said during the meeting that some of the personal property of Aurora's clients was put in self-storage units in the area, but he couldn't say which ones, Askintowicz said.

Part of Aurora's services included keeping personal property for clients if they moved to a place where they could not keep their belongings, such as a nursing home, Askintowicz said.

A "substantial" amount of personal property, including jewelry and furniture, that were in Aurora's care cannot be accounted for, said attorney Frank Hill, who was appointed to examine Aurora's records.

The personal property in the self-storage units could have been sold by the owners of the units if rent was not paid on the storage spaces, Askintowicz said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Social Security Administration are investigating allegations that Gamble violated federal regulations and failed to pay bills of some of the foundation's clients.

It has been diffucult to get information from federal investigators to help clients learn what happened to the missing money, Askintowicz said. Part of the reason for having the local prosecutor's office investigate the case is to get better access to the facts, he said.

Another advantage in having Games-Neely look at the case is that she may be able to secure financial assistance for Aurora's clients through the state's Criminal Victims Act, Askintowicz said.

A handful of former Aurora clients attended the hearing and later were interviewed by ABC News crews, who are putting together a story on Aurora for the network's news magazine, "20/20."

Larry James Early III of Kearneysville, W.Va., said he was referred to Aurora after he was found to be mentally incompetent to handle his own finances. Under Early's arrangement, his Social Security checks were sent to Aurora, which was to pay his utilities and other bills.

After determining his bills had gone unpaid, Early said he had to borrow money from friends to pay his bills and avoid being evicted from his home. He estimated he lost about $17,000.

"That's my nest egg," he said.

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