Feds indict 7 women
for money laundering

by Julie R. Cryser
ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR

    Seven Harrison and Barbour county women, including the owner of Chums Day Care and the Movie Cafe in downtown Clarksburg, were named in a 29-count indictment for laundering money.
    The women, however, say they are innocent and that the charges stem from a state audit of the day care in which auditors accounted for the number of children at the facility differently than the day care accounted for them.
    Named in the indictment were Marsha L. Viglianco, 42, of 212 Liberty Avenue; Alice Bowsman, 33, of 251 Laurel Lanes; Selena Richards, 47, of 91 Chub Run Road, Mount Clare; Mildred DelRio, 39, of Clarksburg; Kimberly Wright, 33, of Shinnston; Diane Davis, 34, of Bridgeport; and Terrie Cassell Fitzwater, 37, of Philippi. The indictments were returned by a federal grand jury in Wheeling, the Northern District of federal court.
    The first count of the indictment alleges that the seven women conspired from January 1994 to the fall of 1995 to submit false billing forms to the state Department of Health and Human Resources regarding the number of children enrolled at Chums Day Care. The state paid the day care $283,605.61 for services not rendered, according to the indictment.
    Viglianco was named in 12 counts of the indictment alleging that she knowingly engaged in monetary transactions in property derived from unlawful activity. The counts further allege that Viglianco deposited checks into her personal account in values greater than $10,000 on 12 occasions beginning on Feb. 17, 1994 through Aug. 17, 1995, knowing the funds were derived from unlawful activity. Bowsman, Richards, DelRio, Wright, Davis and Fitzwater were named in the indictment for mail fraud.
    The indictment also carries a forfeiture allegation, meaning the United States could take property Viglianco received through allegedly illegal means, including a plot of land in Florida and the $283,000 she allegedly laundered.
“It didn’t happen,” Viglianco said Thursday evening. “It’s a terrible misunderstanding by these people who did the audit.”
    Viglianco said that the auditors used sign-in and sign-out sheets to determine the number of children being cared for at the day care. More than three-fourths of the parents don’t sign their children in and out, she said, so they didn’t show up in the audit. About 30 to 40 of the children were picked up by vans and their parents never signed in and out sheets.
State law, she said, did not require the day care to use sign-in and sign-out sheets for billing purposes until about two to six months ago.
    Viglianco said the day care’s practices have been under investigation for the last 5 years. The center, which cares for about 30 children a day now, bills the state for some of its services rendered to low-income children.
    She said the 12 checks referred to in the indictment were checks paid to her from the state Department of Health and Human Services. And, she said it would be too difficult to overbill the state because the children, to whom services are being provided, have to be tracked. “This is going to cost us a lot of money to get out of and probably ruin my business,” she said.
    None of the women contacted Thursday night said they knew anything about the indictment, with Viglianco asking for a list of the indictments to be faxed to her at the Movie Cafe.
    DelRio said all seven women appeared in court in New Martinsville to testify about the audit in March 1998, and then Richards testified in front of a grand jury in Elkins earlier this year.
    DelRio now works at Photo 1, in the same building as the Movie Cafe in downtown Clarksburg. She used to work at Chums. “I did do billing for them, but I never laundered any money for them,” DelRio said.
    If convicted, the defendants face a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $500,000 on the conspiracy count. Viglianco faces a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of $500,000 on the 12 counts in which she is named.
The remaining defendants face a maximum prison term of 5 years and a fine of $250,000 on each mail fraud count.



Brush fire consumes 70 acres
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    KINCHELOE — A brush fire quickly spread through 70 acres of wooded area in southern Harrison County Thursday afternoon and continued through the night. Firefighters were expecting to still be there early this morning.
    The fire hissed and blew great puffs of smoke into the air, blurring the vision of volunteer firefighters from five counties. Still, they stood their ground.
    They formed a line along the winding Kincheloe Road Thursday near the Kincheloe Game Reserve.
Some toted leaf blowers, rakes and shovels. A look back at the man on the truck and the fury of water rushed through the hoses.
    The firefighters were starting to make some progress. Then, the wind shifted. The flames found dry leaves and dead bark and started roaring again. “It’s a beast today all right,” said 50-year-old firefighter Floyd Walters.
    As the fire jumped a portion of the road and forced back the firefighters, Walters talked of his 18 years of experience battling such blazes.
    This one definitely was the worst in the county in a long time, he said. The blaze is located in an area that borders Lewis and Doddridge counties.
    Firefighters on the scene said they believed it started as a spark from an electrical transformer. It was only about 6 miles from the site of a 25-acre brush fire earlier in the week. “All it takes is a spark and it’s gone,” Walters said.
    With the wind uncooperative, the hundreds of volunteers tried to contain the fire. They prayed for the evening rain showers but knew they were in for a long night.
    Jeff Mills of the West Virginia Forestry Department searched for a lighter. He found one and took off. If you can’t control the fire, you have to burn it out, said Reynoldsville firefighter Charles Hess.
    Mills started a backfire. A fire that he would let burn and then have firefighters put out. The idea was to draw in the main fire and bring it into territory already controlled by the firefighters. “It should — knock on wood — put out the fire,” Walters told a younger member of the Doddridge County Volunteer Fire Department. “If it doesn’t, they’ll expect you to put on your boxing gloves.”
    It helped, but didn’t stop the flames. Trees knocked down by a storm last month added extra fuel. Rick Todd of the Salem Volunteer Fire Department posted command.
    He sent some firefighters down to nearby houses to make sure the fire didn’t cause a threat. Harrison County Sheriff’s Deputy D. Quinn lived nearby. “I usually try to stay away from fires,” Quinn said.
    It was a matter of waiting, removing dry material and trying to control the fire’s path, Todd told the firefighters. “That’s all we can do,” one agreed.



Governor OKs
3rd judge for
Harrison Co.
by Troy Graham
STAFF WRITER

    With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Cecil Underwood granted Harrison County a third circuit court judge by signing a bill that adds a judge here and in two other judicial circuits.
    The new Harrison County judge will most likely  take the bench in 2001, after being elected in November 2000. The governor could appoint someone to temporarily fill the third slot, but administration officials
have said Underwood is unlikely to do so. County officials would also be hard pressed to find the space and funds to accommodate a third judge at this time.
    Lawmakers who pushed for the third judge argued that Harrison County has one of the state’s largest civil and criminal caseloads, while noting that the state added a fifth magistrate here a few years ago.
    The governor signed the bill Thursday, the last day bills from the recently adjourned legislative session could be signed into law. “I think the governor recognizes the need to address the concerns of our court system,” said Underwood Spokesman Rod Blackstone.
    Underwood also vetoed three bills Thursday, including one that represented a portion of the changes lawmakers attempted to make in state divorce courts. A far-reaching reform bill died in the last night of the Legislature, but lawmakers salvaged and passed a portion of the bill at the last minute.
    The governor vetoed the bill because the changes “would have overburdened an already overburdened system,” Blackstone said. The original bill also included the creation of more full-time family law masters to handle the proposed changes.
    The governor signed a bill that will allow the state Public Service Commission to regulate the cable industry. The bill is meant to replace the Cable Advisory Authority, which was disbanded last year.
    Although the PSC will not be able to regulate rates, the commission will be able to take complaints and it can fine and suspend a cable company’s right to operate in the state, said PSC Spokesman Bob Teets.
    The PSC will serve as the franchising authority that allows cable companies to operate, he said. In some instances county commissions or city councils serve as franchising authorities. That layer of regulation will remain intact, Teets said.
    The governor also signed an open meetings bill that was supported by the West Virginia Press Association and associations representing county school boards and state and county officials. It was opposed by the editorial boards of several newspapers that say it would lead to more public business being conducted in secret.



Weston residents to vote on city fees
by Torie Knight
STAFF WRITER

    Weston residents will be able to vote on a municipal fee the city instituted a year ago that nearly doubled, and in some cases tripled, what residents pay for city services.
    “I feel this should have been done a year ago. They wasted too much time,” said Weston resident Betty Root, who attended a Thursday Weston City Council meeting in which council members placed the referendum on the June 1 city election ballot.
    However, city officials said Thursday that without the fee, which would bring in $200,000 to the city’s coffers next year, the city could go financially bust. The fee and a business and occupation tax for utilities make up $543,200 of the city’s $1.28 million budget for 1999-2000. “The city has to have the money,” City Attorney Christy Smith said. “The folks can pay for the services they get or watch the city crumble.”
    Residents circulated a petition opposing the fee in June 1998, two months after city council approved the fee. The fee doubled many and tripled some charges for city fire and police protection and other city services.
    Of the 1,026 signatures on the petition, according to the Secretary of State’s Office, 822 were registered Weston voters. That number represented more than the 30 percent of the city’s 2,528 registered voters who needed to sign the petition to force the city to call a referendum.
    Council members, however, rejected the petition saying they questioned the validity of some of the signatures. City officials sent affidavits to those whose signatures they questioned.
    On Thursday, Smith confirmed that 801 of the signatures were legitimate, more than the 30 percent needed. Council members Charles Wilson and Jon Tucci were absent from Thursday’s meeting. Mayor John Burkhart called a vote to put the municipal fee on the June 1 ballot. Council members Barbara Phillips and John Oliver voted with Burkhart.
    Smith said if the city waited for the next meeting, it would have to hold a special election for the municipal fee. A special election would cost the city at least $5,000, money the city doesn’t have.
    The municipal fee hike was part of a plan to pull the city out of a $100,000 deficit it had last year. The plan also included implementing a new business and occupation tax. Business owners successfully challenged that tax in court, but the city quickly enacted a new tax that could not be challenged.
    Without the municipal fees, Smith said the city can “kiss good-bye” a planned $1 an hour across-the-board pay raise for city workers, as well as any extra road paving or equipment purchases.
    Council members and department heads agreed the municipal fee is crucial to the survival of some departments. Three police department officers recently quit, citing low pay. Officers earn $6.89 an hour, including one who quit with 20 years experience in Weston. Other departments need the extra pay, as well, Smith said.
    Last year, the city collected $120,000 in municipal fees, said City Treasurer Cyndi Donaldson. It is unclear if the city may have to return the fees if the voters reject them.



Y2K bug to cost
Clarksburg $62K
by Paul Leakan
STAFF WRITER

    The City of Clarksburg has at least 22 reasons to complete its efforts to exterminate the year 2000 computer bug well before it strikes.
    The city has found that it needs 22 new computers to avoid a potential shut down of its computer systems at the beginning of the new year. The computers should cost a total of $62,000.
    Clarksburg City Council will consider approving the purchase of the new computers during its next regular session on April 15. The year 2000 computer glitch is due to time and date microchips that could shut down when given a 21st century date.
    Clarksburg city officials do not want to make the computer glitch the city’s first big headache of the new year. For the past six months, a special city committee has been investigating how the city will be affected by the computer crisis.
    The city took an inventory of all of its computer systems — including hardware and software — and contacted the maker of the computer to determine whether or not it will be compliant for the year 2000 computer glitch.
    While much of the city’s hardware was made compliant, several software programs will need to be replaced, said Jeff Mikorski, community and economic development director.
    It makes more sense economically to replace the computers that aren’t compliant rather than making them compliant part-by-part, Mikorski said. “It’s only like a $100 difference if you bit-and-piece a computer together or if you buy a new one,” he said. Mikorski believes that all the city’s departments should be compliant by New Year’s Day. “If things do happen, it’s going to be things that we weren’t able to control.”
    The potential problems the city can’t control, such as utilities and banks, are being monitored. The city has kept in touch with all area utility companies and banks to ensure that they are working to become compliant with the problem.
Mikorski said many are either ready or are on their way to fixing the problem. The Clarksburg Millennium Committee will serve as contact point for citizens and utility companies.
    The committee, which consists of a group of about 20 residents, plans on holding seminars throughout the year to educate citizens about issues they may face when the clock strikes 2000.
    Namely, the city will try to bring in representatives of area utility companies to indicate where they are in the process and answer and questions. “Point blank — people will be able to ask them questions,” Mikorski said.



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