Multi-Fest co-founder gets 21 months for tax fraud - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Multi-Fest co-founder gets 21 months for tax fraud

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The former treasurer of Multi-Fest will serve 21 months in prison in connection with a scheme where she took more than $300,000 from the charity organizing the festival.  

Deborah S. Starks, 55, of Cross Lanes appeared in federal court April 16 where U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver imposed a sentence in the middle of the advisory guidelines.

Copenhaver also ordered Starks to pay $306,694 to MultiCultural Festival of West Virginia and $128,626 to the IRS. The court asked for the IRS to send a notification that Multi-Fest would get its restitution first.

Starks previously appeared in federal court in January where she admitted to embezzling more than $300,000 from Multi-Fest from 2005-2010. She entered a guilty plea to income tax fraud.

Starks also admitted that she failed to report more than half a million dollars worth of income on her taxes for each year from 2005-2010. According to a news release from the U.S. Attorney's office, Starks did not report the embezzled funds as income.  

According to the stipulation of facts, Starks was the treasurer of the Charleston festival and she maintained the bank accounts. Starks would write personal checks to herself and third parties to support her gambling activities.

Starks' attorney William E. Murray said in the sentencing hearing that he realized the offense was serious but encouraged the court to take into account the hard work she performed for the organization.

"The amount of money came as much of a surprise to her as anyone else," he said, noting she worked "tirelessly" for Multi-Fest for 20 years.

Starks reiterated the point when she spoke before the court, saying she made several sacrifices and often was a "one-woman show."

"I was doing so much and responsible for everything, but I never wanted to hurt Multi-Fest," she told the court, later adding, "I'm begging you to please have mercy."

Copenhaver said Starks had several good qualities but also mentioned she previously had delivered a number of worthless checks. The court also said the money the IRS didn't get as a result of the embezzlement exhibited a pattern.