CHARLESTON — Former Richwood, West Virginia, mayor Bob Henry Baber is heading to jail for one to 10 years after being paid for “volunteer” 2016 flood recovery work that he did shortly before he took office.
Tenesta Brooks, courtroom clerk for Nicholas County Circuit Court, said Baber will also have to pay restitution, but she didn’t have Judge Stephen Callaghan’s order Tuesday and couldn’t say how much.
Steve Connolly, special prosecutor in the case and general counsel for the State Auditor’s Office, said Baber will have to pay $2,443. That’s the amount to which Baber admitted in August to defrauding Richwood.
“It has been painful to reflect on the selfishness that compelled me to seek recompense that was not due me,” Baber said in conjunction with his August guilty plea. “But however painful it has been to me pales in comparison to the pain it has caused and to the damage ultimately done to both Richwood’s reputation as a town and to its recovery from the flood.”
“It was a terrible lapse of judgment to press for payment for volunteer flood recovery work performed before I was sworn in as mayor,” Baber said back then. “I clearly and unequivocally recognize it was illegal, wrong and unethical. I pressured (city) Clerk Abby McClung to write the check in the amount of $2,443.”
Connolly said prosecutors had requested probation in lieu of imprisonment, but the judge decided otherwise because Baber had held an elected position of trust.
Connolly said prosecutors’ probation request “wasn’t because Mr. Baber is a good person or made good decisions. It’s because we were left in a situation when the federal authorities declined to prosecute and we picked up the ball in January of this year and began the prosecution.”
“It was a situation where we needed the essential information that only Mr. Baber … and others that we have been talking with possessed, so it was a concession deal,” Connolly said of the plea deal with Baber.
As part of the plea agreement, prosecutors didn’t pursue additional felony charges against Baber, according to an earlier news release from the Auditor’s Office.
An 18-month investigation by State Auditor JB McCuskey’s office, which included help from the West Virginia State Police, began into Baber’s purchasing card usage, but it ballooned to implicate a cast of other characters.