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River Valley Child Development Services is seen on Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Huntington.

HUNTINGTON — A Chesapeake, Ohio, woman pleaded guilty Monday to theft of federal funds from River Valley Child Development Services, a nonprofit organization located in Huntington.

Ruth Marie Phillips, also known as Marie Phillips, 69, was arrested in April and charged with theft concerning programs receiving federal funds during her work with RVCDS, which provides resources for children and families in the area, such as after-school programs, food programs and operating branches of the state’s Birth to Three program. She worked there from December 1986 until September 2020, according to federal court documents and statements made in court.

Phillips held various positions at with the organization, including director of business and finance, and was responsible for all financial operations, including monitoring accounts receivable, creating and submitting invoices, reconciling bank accounts and issuing checks, court records showed.

From July 1, 2016, to on or about June 30, 2017, RVCDS received approximately $7,131,756 in federal funding and Phillips used her position of trust and authority to steal approximately $964,012 during that period and further admitted that between December 2013 and August 2020, she stole approximately $4,721,731 from the nonprofit.

She admitted that during that period, she sent $1,142,500 to her personal checking account and sent another $3,395,500 to Attitude Aviation’s U.S. bank account. Attitude Aviation has offices at Lawrence County Airpark in South Point, Ohio, and Tri-State Airport in Huntington, and provides aeronautical services, including fueling, rental of hangar space, aircraft rental, flight instruction and maintenance.

As part of her plea agreement, Phillips agreed to forfeit her interest in her Chesapeake, Ohio, personal residence, as well as a lake house on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia that she purchased during the period of her criminal activity. Phillips also agreed to forfeit her interest in several vehicles and her interest in Attitude Aviation property and equipment.

During the investigation, three search warrants were simultaneously executed across two states on April 8, including at Phillips’ personal residence in Chesapeake, Ohio; Attitude Aviation’s Lawrence County Airpark office in Ohio; and Attitude Aviation’s Huntington Tri-State Airport office in West Virginia, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Acting U.S. Attorney Lisa G. Johnston announced Phillips’ plea Monday and commended the thorough investigative work of the FBI, the West Virginia State Police, the Central West Virginia Drug and Violent Crime Task Force, the Lawrence County, Ohio Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office Litigation Financial Analyst.

Phillips faces up to 10 years in federal prison, a fine of at least $250,000, and restitution in the amount of $4,721,731 when she is sentenced on Dec. 13.

U.S. District Judge Robert C. Chambers presided over the plea hearing. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kristin F. Scott, R. Gregory McVey and Kathleen Robeson are handling the prosecution.

Fred Pace is the business reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. Follow him at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

Fred has been in the newspaper industry for 30+ years. He continues to be excited to bring readers news that only comes thru local journalism. “Being able to share the passion felt by entrepreneurs in our community with readers is exciting,” he said.

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