A former city of Franklin employee, who was in financial charge of the town office, was found guilty in Circuit Court Friday of embezzlement of more than $1,000 and six counts of falsifying and/or destroying accounts.
Kimberly Pitsenbarger testified there was "no wrongdoing on her part" in the purchase of multiple questionable items appearing on the town's VISA card and Staples credit account.
"These were not personal items for me," said Pitsenbarger, who stated multiple charges to Walmart, Food Lion and E-Bay were items needed by the town pool, for office holiday celebrations, or maintenance department items or replacements.
Pitsenbarger handled payroll, bills and purchases and prepared checks and employees' withholdings and credit union deposits, Mayor Pam Waybright testified.
"She was the central hub of the office. The Town Council and I had the utmost faith and trust in her," Waybright said.
Prosecutor Kevin Sponaugle said Waybright found out about the discrepancies by "blind Luck" on June 24, 2009, when she demanded cell phone records which indicated the town was funding seven cell phones instead of the five authorized by the Town Council. The extra cell phone accounts were listed and used by Pitsenbargers' two sons.
Waybright testified the extra cell phones with charges in excess of $5,000 were not authorized by the Town Council.
Pitsenbarger on June 24, switched the extra two phones from the town office account to the Cedar Hill Cemetery account and on June 25 wrote a check for $3,200 to the town for the excess phone usage.
"The $1,000 threshold needed to prove embezzlement was reached right off the bat in the two son's phone charges," Sponaugle told the jury.
""There was a lot more than $1,000 in questionable purchases from the Staples/VISA purchases ... made on the town's dime," Sponaugle added.
Finding some problems with a normal town audit, Harold Fortner of the State's Auditor's Office testified he completed a forensic audit and found the existence of certain discrepancies in credit union and AFLAC deposits that benefitted Pitsenbarger.
Fortner also declared a finance document introduced by Defense Attorney Derrick W. Whetzel was an "erroneous, false and incomplete" document.
"Fortner immediately caught that this document did not work. He had no axe to grind with Kimberly Pitsenbarger," Sponaugle stated.
In July 2009, Waybright asked State Police Corporal Andrew D. Teter to investigate.
On Oct. 16, 2010, Teter completed a criminal complaint leading to the arrest of the accused.
Teter's investigation found from June 2006 to June 2009, Pitsenbarger used a town Visa credit card to make purchases from 28 vendors totaling $12,261.21 for her own use. Some of these businesses included Walmarts in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Barboursville and Weston; Sheetz; Amazon.Com; E-Bay; plane tickets on two airlines; Cabellas; Cracker Barrel; Lowes; Video Club; WVU Potomac State book store; and Food Lion.
Between December 2005 and March 2009, Pitsenbarger allegedly purchased items from Staples totaling $3,916.32, including three laptop computers, software, candy, a GPS system and a satellite radio.
Waybright said the town had not authorized the purchases of any of these items, but the town paid the bills.
Several town employees testified that Pitsenbarger had requested they remove and dispose of boxes containing outdated bills and documents. Sponaugle said he wished he had those boxes on the prosecution table before him.
Former mayor Genevieve Glover said Pitsenbarger sometimes would prepare checks for her signature as mayor with very little in supporting documentation.
"When I questioned some checks, Kim would have a very quick explanation. The answers I got seemed accurate, because I trusted her. ...I did not think Kim would do anything wrong prior to this investigation," Glover stated.
Sponaugle said this case was not just about Pitsenbarger, but about the town and those elected to town office.
"These are good folks who serve as the council, the mayor; and try to do the best that they can.
"There is no glory in the jobs, but a lot of headaches. It's hard enough now to find good people even to run for office," Sponaugle said.
One court observer said the mayor and council are part-time jobs that need full time, honest office staff. "They have to be able to completely trust that help."
Mayor Waybright said at the end of the three-day trial, "We were so relieved to get the guilty verdict on all counts. The citizens of Franklin have been deceived and taken advantage of for many years. Today justice was served."