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Former food bank director arrested

Jan. 18, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON — A Huntington woman has been arrested on charges that she embezzled more than $23,000 from the Huntington Area Food Bank following an investigation by the West Virginia State Police.

The 17-count indictment identifies the defendant as Leigh Anne Zappin, the agency's former executive director. She had worked there since 2008, first under a community service program for a prior embezzlement conviction and then as its leader from fall 2010 to Oct. 3, 2012.

The indictment charges Zappin, 56, with a single count of embezzlement and eight counts each of forgery and uttering.

Zappin was arrested without incident Friday at her home along Washington Boulevard by state troopers, according to Sgt. G.N. Losh. She was incarcerated at the Western Regional Jail at 10:10 p.m. Her bond was set at $100,000.

The food bank serves 290 agencies that help hungry people in a 17-county area in the Tri-State. The nonprofit organization processes $900,000 in cash donations, U.S. Department of Agriculture funds and grants annually as part of its overall $6 million budget, including monetary values assessed to food.

Huntington defense attorney Chad Hatcher confirmed Friday he had filed a notice of appearance in the case, meaning he will represent Zappin.

Hatcher had no comment on the case Friday night. The Cabell County Prosecutor's office also declined to comment.

The indictment marks Zappin's third encounter with allegations that she took money from an employer. Prior court cases involved thousands of dollars taken from Chic Wigs in Barboursville and Ferguson Land Co. in Huntington.

Board members at the food bank were aware of Zappin's history at Chic Wigs upon her hiring and stood by the decision to name her director upon learning about issues at Ferguson Land Co., according to an early 2011 interview with board president Stanley Mills, who did not return calls for comment Friday night. The Ferguson case involved a civil lawsuit and no criminal charges.

"She's done nothing but a sterling job for us," Mills said at the time. "All our funds are accounted for and spent as wisely as we can. And, we have systems in place that would not allow any type of monkey business."

Problems began nearly a year later, according to the indictment. It charges Zappin embezzled $23,700 from Jan. 22, 2012, to Sept. 21, 2012. She cited medical reasons in tendering her resignation the following week, a move confirmed by the board Oct. 3.

Indications are the majority of the embezzlement scheme was fueled with a series of eight checks forged and uttered totaling $22,820.26, according to the indictment. It presents no details as to the mechanism used to embezzle the remaining $879.74.

The indictment charges Zappin uttered each of the checks using the forged signature of board treasurer Ann Kipp and then presenting the check to employees at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank. Six were made payable to Zappin, while the indictment charges she made the first and third forgeries payable "J.P. Morgan Chase Bank" or "Chase Bank" respectively.

The amounts were $7,500 on April 30; $976.64 on June 4; $3,200 on June 21; $3,000 on July 12; $2,250 on July 22; $4,384.80 on Aug. 14; $743.82 on Aug. 23; and $765 on Sept. 4, according to the indictment.

Those dates indicate Zappin passed forgeries twice a month in June, July and August. The July incidents, which totaled $5,250, had consecutive check numbers, No. 8520 and No. 8521.

Zappin, when interviewed in early 2011, told The Herald-Dispatch she had satisfied past punishments and paid every debt required.

"To have it dredged up three years later, after I have worked so hard to put into place so many audit trails and checkpoints and procedures, it's difficult on my family and the food bank," she said in early 2011. "My family is the most important thing to me and having the food bank operate correctly is very important to me."

Zappin's criminal conviction was for misdemeanor embezzlement. It stemmed from the taking of $4,500 from Chic Wigs at the Huntington Mall. She had been employed there from December 2006 to March 2007.

That plea bargain reduced what was felony embezzlement to a misdemeanor. It also netted Zappin a sentence of home confinement, probation and community service, along with orders to pay $2,248.61 in restitution and a civil judgment of $5,086.44. She served less than a month behind bars.

Zappin's mandated community service led her to the food bank. Mills, in early 2011, said board members learned of the misdemeanor conviction through a required background check for employment.

Board members had become impressed with Zappin's ability to help with the recordkeeping at a time of significant growth for the food bank. They rewarded her performance with a promotion to interim director. Her predecessor was released in late 2009 amid outdated computer programs, poor staff attitudes and reports of employees helping themselves to food.

Board members didn't learn of Zappin's history at the Ferguson Land Co. case until early 2011, Mills said at the time. She had worked for the company from 1993 to 1995.

Details of that case are contained in civil litigation. Court documents show Ferguson Land was awarded $61,897.31 from Zappin. She had handled its accounting, bookkeeping, financial and administrative services, responsibilities that placed her in charge of the company's checkbook and bank records.

Mills, in early 2011, told The Herald-Dispatch that Zappin's attorney at the time indicated the Ferguson Land case was settled out of court for a percentage of the original amount and Zappin had paid restitution in full.

Mills, also in 2011, added that Zappin's role as director would not place her in a position to either handle food bank donations or open its mail. He said the agency's clerk handles the donations.

Follow Curtis Johnson via Twitter @curtisjohnsonHD and http://facebook.com/curtisjohnsonHD.



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