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Man accused of stealing money from venture he and deputy owned together

George H. Van Wagner was arraigned on one felony count of embezzlement

March 16, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A man who was convicted of money laundering and drug charges is accused of stealing money from a land development company that he and a Berkeley County sheriff's deputy owned together, according to court records.

George H. Van Wagner, 58, of P.O. Box 867, Martinsburg, was arraigned Wednesday by Berkeley County Magistrate Sandra L. Miller on one felony count of embezzlement, according to court records.

Van Wagner is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from Topaz LLC, a venture that he and Sheriff's Deputy Steven Crites formed in 2006, according to court records and the West Virginia Secretary of State's office.

The alleged incidents happened between September 2006 and September 2007, according to a complaint filed against Van Wagner by West Virginia State Police Cpl. J.M. Walker.

Crites said Wednesday he was aware of Van Wagner's drug-related convictions and association with former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, but still trusted him.

Van Wagner did not deny being sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for his involvement in a drug ring that reportedly brought hundreds of pounds of cocaine to the Washington area, but asserted that "the past is the past" and maintains he was "a straight shooter" in his business dealings with Crites.

While Crites didn't dispute Wednesday that his former business partner invested some of their real estate money into the purchase of Berkeley Plaza, which the deputy co-owns with Brent Jackson, the deputy insisted he was misled by Van Wagner about the finances of Topaz LLC.

"I was the one who got my hands dirty," Crites said of his role with the development venture.

Crites told Trooper Walker that he put $72,300 into Topaz LLC between October 2006 and September 2008 and that the company built and ultimately sold 36 town homes in the Inwood, W.Va., area that yielded a profit of about $900,000, according to court records.

Crites told Walker that he never authorized Van Wagner to use the money from Topaz for the defendant's other business ventures, which included Leisure Living Estates LCC, Vanwood LLC, Hickory Ridge LLC, Norwood Inc., VAC LLC, All Phase Corp., according to court records.

After reviewing bank statements between September 2006 and September 2007, Walker determined that checks totaling $340,050 and $1,858,000 were made payable from Topaz LLC's account to Van Wagner and the Norwood partnership, respectively, according to court records.  

Van Wagner told Walker in October 2010 that the Norwood partnership was responsible for developing the Topaz property and the checks that were made payable to the defendant were compensation for undeveloped land he owned that became part of the Topaz venture, according to court records.

Recorded deeds indicate Van Wagner sold 1.28 acres to Topaz LLC for $275,000 in August 2006, but Crites told Walker that he believed bank loans were used to finance the purchase of the undeveloped Topaz LLC property, according to court records.

Van Wagner, meanwhile, contends that Walker did not fully investigate the matter and said he has done nothing wrong.

After serving 12 years of the federal prison sentence for money laundering and cocaine conspiracy convictions, Van Wagner said he joined his brother in area real estate business deals, borrowing millions in loans from banks for various projects during the housing market boom.

Since the housing market's collapse, Van Wagner confirmed he filed for bankruptcy and says he lost practically everything and now lives in a mobile home.

There are more than 20 civil actions filed against Van Wagner and/or affiliated companies pending in Berkeley County Circuit Court, according to records maintained by the Circuit Clerk's office.

The bankruptcy proceedings are still pending, according to court records.

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