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Former Red Cross employee gets probation for embezzling thousands

Martinsburg man to pay back more than $30,000

July 11, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthew.umstead@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — A former American Red Cross worker convicted of embezzling more than $30,000 from the agency’s Eastern Panhandle chapter was placed on probation for five years Monday with the condition that he pay back the money.

Samuel K. Bunner, 38, was sentenced by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Gray Silver III, who agreed to suspend what could have been a sentence of as many as 10 years in prison to allow the Martinsburg man to make monthly payments totaling $30,233.71 to the disaster relief agency.

Bunner, who pleaded guilty to one felony count of embezzlement, apologized Monday to the community, the court and the American Red Cross when Silver gave him the opportunity to make a statement.

One felony count of falsifying accounts was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Upon reviewing a pre-plea report by the judicial circuit’s probation office, Silver said he learned that Bunner developed a gambling problem that only surfaced when American Red Cross officials discovered the embezzlement.

The report indicated that Bunner has sought treatment for his gambling habits, which he managed to hide from his family, and has landed a good-paying job since being charged, Silver said.

Given Bunner’s income, probation offers the quickest way for the American Red Cross to recoup what was taken from the agency, Silver said.  

When Silver asked Bunner what he did that led to the charges against him, Bunner said he made up fictitious reports to activate American Red Cross debit cards for his personal use.

Police have alleged that Bunner “cashed out” prepaid debit cards between August 2009 and February 2010 that were supposed to be given to disaster victims, according to court records.

The transactions were concealed with fictitious documentation of victims who did not exist and natural disasters that did not occur, according to court records.

Seated in the gallery of the courtroom, American Red Cross chapter executive director Amy Grove declined to make a statement when Silver offered her the opportunity. The judge later noted the agency and the investigating officer, West Virginia State Police Cpl. J.M. Walker, said previously they were satisfied with the plea agreement.

Minutes after Monday’s hearing, Bunner paid $1,000 of what was owed to the American Red Cross through the Berkeley County Circuit Clerk’s office.

Berkeley County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Timothy D. Helman told the court that if Bunner fails to adhere to the payment arrangements, a motion to revoke his probation would be filed.

Felony counts of knowingly possessing material visually portraying a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct remain pending against Bunner in circuit court, prosecutors said Monday. The child pornography allegations surfaced during the course of the credit card fraud investigation by West Virginia State Police, according to court records.

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