West Virginia State Police made an arrest this morning in the Johnson Elementary Parent-Teacher Association embezzlement case, according to Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney Joe Shaffer. Shaffer said Melissa Wilfong of Bridgeport was arrested and charged with felony embezzlement.
Shaffer said the amount of money Wilfong, 36, was charged with embezzling was slightly more than $20,000. Published reports have the total at $20,195. Wilfong served as the treasurer of the organization until June of this year.
Wilfong appeared before Harrison County Magistrate Keith Marple for her initial appearance. Bond was set at $5,000 and she posted it and was released.
“According to the police investigation (which was done by the State Police) she acted alone,” Shaffer said.
Now, Shaffer said she will have the opportunity to have a preliminary hearing within 20 days since she posted bond. At that point, the issue is to determine whether there is probable cause to send it forward to the Harrison County Grand Jury for a possible indictment. Shaffer said if that happens, it will likely be heard during the January grand jury as the time to have items included during the upcoming September grand jury has passed.
“At that time, if indicted, she would have the opportunity to go to trial is she wishes,” Shaffer said.
Wilfong was not able to plead her innocence or guilt during today’s hearing. Shaffer said a magistrate cannot take a plea in a felony case, of which this case qualifies. Embezzlement of more than $1,000 qualifies for a felony, Shaffer said. Shaffer added that jail time could be between 1 to 10 years on the charges.
The opportunity to avoid the grand jury and, subsequently, a trial is possible if Wilfong opts to plead guilty. Shaffer said she could plead by way of an information, which is a formal filing document done in circuit courts.
“Some defendants opt to go that route,” Shaffer said.
News of the situation broke June 21. Former Harrison County Board of Education President Paul Howe said an audit of the PTA’s books was done by Tetrick & Bartlett and that information was given to the State Police in their investigation. Current BOE President Mike Queen said he’s pleased that there has been a resolution to the case.
“We promised a quick resolution, got our accountants on it quickly, and the defendant cooperated; absolutely cooperated with the investigation,” said Queen. “I’m glad that it came to a head and glad, as strange as it may sound, that only one person was involved.”
Queen said he’s anticipating that Wilfong will make full restitution to the school and the PTA. He also said that he anticipates restitution for the BOE’s accounting and legal fees.
“I’m taking a shot here, but that figure for the (BOE’s) expenses is probably between $5,000 and $6,000,” said Queen.
Queen said any comments that the BOE or anyone else would turn their head to this case should now be silenced.
“The charges have been brought and the prosecuting attorney led that charge, which we knew he would,” said Queen. “Now, the criminal process has to commence.”
Queen, Howe and others involved have said prior to today’s arrest that the incident was an isolated one. Queen added that it shouldn’t reflect on others who volunteer in PTAs or other school organizations.
“We want to send a strong message to all of our volunteers that this type of situation won’t be tolerated ever … Ninety-nine percent or greater that help out are good and honorable people,” said Queen. “We hope and believe people realize that.”
West Virginia State Police Sgt. Mark Kiddy is handling the case, according to Shaffer. Kiddy was gone for the day and will not return until Friday at 4 p.m., according to a staff member there. No other individuals could assist other than Kiddy, the staffer said.