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Woman charged with embezzling $400K

HUNTINGTON — A former employee of a Huntington insurance and investments company was arraigned Monday in an indictment accusing her of embezzling and laundering more than $400,000 from the firm.

Jessica Lynn Bailey, 40, who also is known by the last names of Webb, McMichen Harvey, Jordan, Webb and Harvey, was indicted this month on six counts of forgery, five counts each of fraudulent use of an access device, embezzlement and uttering, two counts of computer fraud and one count each of fraudulent schemes and money laundering, all stemming from her employment with Pryce Haynes Associates.

Assistant prosecutor Joe Fincham said he believes Bailey to be the first charged with money laundering charges in state courts in the entire state.

Bailey originally had been charged in April with four similar counts in magistrate court, but the charges then only described the allegations as stealing "in excess of $1,000." She had been scheduled for a preliminary evidence hearing Monday, but a grand jury already had returned a 25-count indictment against her earlier this month.

Bailey entered a not guilty plea Monday at her arraignment before Cabell Circuit Judge Gregory Howard. Howard said he would

allow her to remain out of jail on a $50,000 bond, however for it to remain in place, she must turn over three vehicles, a camper, golf cart and diamond ring to the case's lead investigator, Huntington Police Detective Jason Davis, by 4 p.m. Tuesday. The items will be held pending the outcome of the case and could be used as collateral to repay the victim.

According to the indictment, Bailey had been employed as an office manager and bookkeeper with Pryce Haynes Associates from September 2016 to April 219, at which time she became an authorized user on the company's Capital One credit card and opened an American Express account without the company's permission.

The victim is accused of making 1,944 transactions with those cards, totaling more than $328,123, to spend on goods and services for her personal use. She allegedly used the money for personal vacations, clothing, food, Weight Watchers, attorney fees, child support and more personal items.

The indictment alleges in order to conceal the transactions, she embezzled nearly $400,000 from the victim's bank accounts and laundered the money by making payments to the credit cards.

She is accused of embezzling $58,000 from the Pryce Haynes Associates' health savings account by forging documents to liquidate funds in the account, $322,781 from the company's bank accounts in 216 transactions and another $14,883 from an automated clearing house account. The defendant also allegedly forged 41 checks made to cash totaling $29,216.

The indictment says at one point Bailey forged her boss' signature on loan documents for a travel camper, which was purchased with the victim's credit card and included interest. The camper was later traded in for a new one and titled into another person's name in order to conceal the fraud, the indictment said.

The embezzled and laundered funds were placed into two bank accounts and 13 PayPal accounts, which are all listed as forfeiture items in the case, along with the vehicles and ring taken into possession by police this week.

Bailey is scheduled to return to court Aug. 27 to let Howard know if she plans to keep her current attorney, Chad Hatcher, or will need new representation.

Follow reporter Courtney Hessler at Facebook.com/CHesslerHD and via Twitter @HesslerHD.


TTA sees a hefty ridership increase in first half of 2019

HUNTINGTON — The number of people riding Tri-State Transit Authority buses and vans this year is trending higher than it has in decades.

If the growth continues, the agency will have to ask the federal government for more money to add buses to several routes, said Paul Davis, TTA's general manager and CEO.

He attributed the growth to a partnership with Marshall University that lets students ride a "Green Machine" bus route for free. There's also been overall low unemployment in the region, with more people taking the bus to get to their jobs.

"People are working, going to school and going to the doctors. It all adds up," Davis said. "What it adds up to is more people riding the bus."

In the month of July, TTA buses and Dial a Ride vans carried a total of 83,501 riders. That's approximately 6,700 more people, or nearly 9 percent, than were transported in July of last year, which totaled 76,711 riders.

For the fiscal year ending June 30, TTA boarded a total of 952,911 riders. That total nears a record-setting ridership that was set in 1981 with 1,022,415 riders.

Three routes are particularly experiencing an increase in riders: a Madison Avenue route; a route through Walnut Hills to Walmart; and a route along U.S. 60 to the Huntington Mall.

If ridership on those continues to grow, the TTA will have to add more buses to these routes, called "tripper" buses, Davis said.

"Say there's a bus leaving downtown Huntington at 1:15 p.m. That bus wouldn't get back into town until 2:15 p.m.," Davis said. "The real fix for that

would be to add a 1:45 p.m. bus so they would be running parallel to that by only 30 minutes."

However, Davis said he would not seek to increase fare rates or taxes to pay for extra buses. Instead, he would ask the federal government for grant funding or budget increases to add more.

"I personally don't believe we can go and ask the taxpayers for additional millage on the ground," Davis said. "The federal government needs to step up their game across the country, not just here at the TTA. They need to increase funding."

Davis said July was a good month at the TTA. In addition to the increased ridership, one TTA employee was named 2019 Transit Employee of the Year by the West Virginia Division of Public Transit.

TTA employee Carol Holbrook was honored during an annual meeting in July of the West Virginia Public Transit Association and the 34th annual Excellence Awards Program.

Holbrook was recognized for her accurate preparation of accounts payable and payroll vouchers each week. She also helps with billing for the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation program and keeps track of employee benefits. TTA's assistant general manager, Jennifer Woodall, was also named president of the West Virginia Public Transit Association for the ensuing year.

Travis Crum is a reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He may be reached by phone at 304-526-2801.


Veteran of Pearl Harbor attack dies
Lincoln native Wetzel Sanders could be last surviving vet from WV

Wetzel Sanders of Midkiff, Lincoln County, possibly the last surviving West Virginia veteran of the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died Sunday at age 96.

The Lincoln County native joined the Army several months before the attack, and after completing basic training, was assigned to an anti-aircraft post near the U.S. Navy hospital at Pearl Harbor in the weeks prior to Dec. 7.

After being awakened by Japanese aircraft strafing his barracks on the morning of the attack, Sanders drove a truck filled with soldiers to join in the defense of the Navy base. Along the way, Japanese planes strafed the truck, leaving seven bullet holes in the vehicle by the time it arrived at Pearl Harbor, Sanders later recalled.

Sanders' 50-caliber machine gun crew managed to shoot down a Japanese fighter plane while under fire and exposed to exploding bombs from other attacking aircraft. He suffered a shrapnel wound in his knee during the attack.

Sanders went on to serve in the Pacific Campaign, taking part in the Battle of

Guadalcanal and the invasion of Bougainville. After the war, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines and served more than three additional years before returning home to Midkiff, where he and a brother founded a contracting company.

Sanders worked as a driver for Tri-State Transit Authority until the age of 89, and was said to be the oldest bus driver in America when he retired.

In 2017, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., helped secure a Purple Heart award for Sanders, to which he was entitled for his shrapnel wound while in combat at Pearl Harbor.

"I was honored to be able to help Wetzel receive his well-deserved and hard-earned Purple Heart recognition for his heroic service at Pearl Harbor," Manchin said in a statement released on Monday. Manchin said Sanders was "an American hero and an inspiration to all West Virginians."

Sanders, state chairman of the West Virginia Pearl Harbor Survivors Association in his later years, told reporters in interviews during the past two years that he knew of only one other Pearl Harbor survivor still living in the state. That individual died last year, according to an internet search.

"Sanders was part of our nation's greatest generation and he will forever be known as a West Virginia legend," said Gov. Jim Justice in a news release.

Reach Rick Steelhammer at rsteelhammer@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-5169 or follow @rsteelhammer on Twitter.