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Aurora head pleads guilty

March 15, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The former head of an agency that handled money for mentally disabled benefits recipients pleaded guilty Tuesday to embezzling more than $300,000, mostly Social Security funds, from his clients.

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When he is sentenced on June 5, Gregory A. Gamble faces up to five years in prison, a maximum fine of $250,000 and up to three years of probation as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors.

The agreement also includes Gamble paying for his incarceration and repaying more than $304,000 to the federal Social Security Administration and Department of Veterans Affairs, plus a $100 assessment.

U.S. District Judge W. Craig Broadwater said he will consider the plea arrangement between the defense and prosecution after reading a pre-sentence probation report.

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Gamble pleaded guilty to a one-count indictment that said he used Aurora Foundation Inc. to collect money from the Social Security Administration on behalf of his clients but kept some of the money for himself.

"It's all gone," Gamble's attorney, Craig Manford, said outside the courtroom. "It kind of snowballed on him over time."

He said his client is remorseful and has cooperated with the authorities in their investigations.

FBI Special Agent Terry Grzadzielewski testified during the plea hearing that Gamble had three bank accounts: two for Aurora and one personal account. Gamble wrote checks on one of the Aurora accounts to himself, Grzadzielewski said.

There is a separate investigation under way into the handling of nonfederal money, such as insurance or wrongful death settlements, according to Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

"We know it's over $25,000," she said.

West Virginia State Police are still looking into the allegations and the case has not gone to a grand jury yet, she said.

Grzadzielewski said Aurora, on West King Street in Martinsburg, collected $1.78 million in Social Security payments for 146 clients between March 1995 and April 1999.

Gamble, who was designated to pay clients' bills for them, kept $213,000 of it without his clients' knowledge, Grzadzielewski said.

Gamble also pocketed $1,360 in benefits from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Grzadzielewski testified.

Also included in the restitution as part of the agreement is almost $90,000 Gamble received to cover Aurora's expenses.

"He may spend the rest of his life trying to pay it back," Manford said.

The cost of incarceration was estimated at $1,800 a month for prison and $1,300 a month for community confinement. Probation costs $250 a month, Broadwater said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas O. Mucklow declined to comment on the federal government's end of the plea agreement.

Broadwater set Gamble's bond at $5,000.

After the investigation into Aurora began, Gamble took a job as a vocational counselor with the Western Maryland Consortium. But after the TV news magazine, "20/20," ran a segment on the case, Gamble lost his position, Manford said. He then got a job with Budget Rent-a-Car in Hagerstown, where he lives.

Gamble was scheduled to appear before Berkeley County Magistrate Ruth A. Donaldson last Friday on an unrelated charge of domestic battery but asked for a postponement.

In court records, police allege Gamble struck his wife, Julia, "about the facial area with his hands" in front of a South Rosemont Avenue house last August.

He was released on $567 bond. A new hearing date has not been set on that charge.

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