EYEWITNESS LOCAL NEWSMULTIFEST OFFICIAL RESIGNS
from Eyewitness News Online
MultiFest, Stephen Starks Sever Ties
Reported by: Jeff Morris
Web Producer: Jeff Morris
Reported: Jan. 4, 2013 10:25 AM EST
Updated: Jan. 22, 2013 12:43 PM EST
Charleston , Kanawha County , West Virginia
MultiFest and Stephen Starks have parted ways.
Starks, the founder and president of the multicultural festival, said in a published report Tuesday that he voluntarily removed himself from the board because of sponsorship concerns.
Some sponsors, including the Kanawha County Commission, have expressed concerns about festival funding since Starks’ wife, Deborah, pleaded guilty to federal tax fraud. Deborah Starks, a former treasurer of the Charleston nonprofit organization, acknowledged that she had drained more than $300,000 from the festival.
MultiFest board members said Monday they had cut ties with Stephen Starks. He has not been implicated in the tax fraud case.
MultiFest draws thousands of visitors to the state Capitol during the summer for music, food and entertainment that celebrates the area’s cultural diversity.
Kanawha County commissioners said Friday they have serious concerns about Multi-Fest funding requests and will review them in light of the executive director's guilty plea in federal court to income tax fraud.
The commissioners were reacting to the guilty plea by Deborah Starks, 55, who admitted that she filed a false tax return in connection with an embezzlement scheme that drained more than $300,000 from the festival.
In a news release, the commissioners said they would review any and all funding requests from Multi-Fest they have received and they have serious concerns about the funds that were stolen from the charity that runs the festival. They noted that the festival has been held in the city of Charleston for many years and has been well attended. The commission said it supports the overall purpose of the event, and it has been a past participant.
"The community and Multi-Fest deserve better," Commission President Kent Carper said. "If Multi-Fest is able to continue and wishes to receive funding in the future from the Kanawha County Commission, those running Multi-Fest will have to be strictly accountable and there must be honest people in charge."
The executive director of MultiFest pleaded guilty Friday morning in federal court to income tax fraud, admitting that she filed a false tax return in connection with an embezzlement scheme that drained more than $300,000 from the festival.
Deborah S. Starks, 55, was the treasurer of MultiFest, a nonprofit Charleston organization, at the time of the scheme, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin’s Office. MultiFest sponsors a music, arts and crafts, and dance festival held annually in Charleston. As treasurer, Starks was in charge of revenue and expenses for MultiFest and maintained the organization's bank accounts.
Starks admitted that beginning in or about 2005 and continuing until 2010, she embezzled about $306,000 from MultiFest, the release said. She also admitted additional unreported taxable income of about $200,000. Starks further admitted that she wrote personal checks to herself and to other people, withdrew cash in the form of checks, and made ATM transactions from MultiFest bank accounts during the scheme.
Starks also admitted that the embezzled funds were used primarily to support her personal gambling activities.
In addition to the embezzlement scheme, the defendant admitted that she prepared, signed and filed a joint U.S. Individual Income Tax Return for each of the calendar years 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 and did not report the embezzled funds as income.
Starks has agreed to pay restitution to MultiFest in the amount of $306,872.04 and the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of $128,626. She faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing is scheduled April 2.
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