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Jefferson County ex-official pleads guilty to scheme, is ordered to pay restitution

August 09, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - A former Jefferson County emergency management official charged with fraudulent schemes in connection with the use a county-issued credit card last year avoided jail time Friday for falsifying expense receipts.

Darrell G. Penwell, 53, of Charles Town, W.Va., entered a guilty plea in Berkeley County Circuit Court to one misdemeanor count of obtaining money by false pretenses.

Penwell was placed on probation for two years and a one-year jail sentence was suspended as part of a binding plea agreement accepted by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes.

Penwell was ordered to pay $3,642.15 in restitution and court costs.

Special prosecuting attorney Dan James said the state allowed the plea to be presented to the judge after discovering that Penwell had no prior criminal record and had lost his "position of trust" with county government.

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Penwell resigned as the director of the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management when he was charged with one felony count of fraudulent schemes in July 2007. If he had been convicted of the felony count, Penwell could have been sentenced to as many as 10 years in jail.

The county's emergency management office merged in August 2007 with the county's office of homeland security.

Penwell and his attorney, Thomas E. Delaney, declined to comment Friday after the hearing.

Wilkes said Friday that he agreed to the plea agreement because the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department had no objection to the deal.

James told Wilkes on Friday that the state could prove that the defendant used a county-issued credit card for gas purchases and, after filing for state requests for reimbursement, failed to return the money to the Jefferson County Commission between December 2000 and May 2007.

James was appointed by the West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute to handle the case for the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney's office. Wilkes was assigned to handle the case after 23rd Judicial Circuit judges Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. and David H. Sanders recused themselves from the case. An assistant prosecutor for Morgan County, James was Sanders' former law clerk, and Steptoe has presided in Jefferson County for a number of years.

Penwell, of 50 Jefferson Ave., was a longtime county employee involved in areas such as 911 operations and helping the county deal with weather-related incidents like floods.

In a complaint filed against Penwell in magistrate court, Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said he received information about "irregular activities" regarding the use of a county gas credit card that was assigned to Penwell.

On six occasions, Penwell used a Jefferson County vehicle and gas credit card to travel to meetings and other functions in other parts of the state, according to Boober's complaint.

Penwell would then submit a state travel expense account settlement for payment of the use of his personal vehicle, the complaint stated.

On four occasions, Penwell used his personal vehicle to travel to meetings and other functions in the state and used a Jefferson County Commission issued Sheetz gas card and "Master Charge" card to buy gas, lodging and meals for travel, Boober had said.

Penwell would then submit a state travel expense account settlement requesting reimbursement for expenses for which the county commission had already paid, Boober said.

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