The former finance and operations manager of a charitable nonprofit business pleaded guilty May 23 to two counts of wire fraud after embezzling nearly $1 million dollars.
Benjamin Cisco, formerly from Beech Creek and who currently resides in Charleston, was indicted by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on charges in February. He was charged with three counts of fraud by wire, radio or television; three counts of money laundering — interstate commerce; and one count of aggravated identity theft.
According to the indictment, Cisco allegedly used his position with West Virginia VOAD (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters) to “devise a scheme to defraud (WV VOAD) and obtain money and property by means of face and fraudulent pretenses” during a period beginning on March 19, 2020, and extending until Sept. 28, 2022.
It further contends, Cisco “misused his position as finance and operations manager to fraudulently transfer funds from the charity’s bank accounts into an online fundraising platform (Flipcause) account.”
West Virginia VOAD had offices located in both Williamson and Belle. However, the Williamson location was recently closed.
Cisco will be formally sentenced in federal court on Sept. 13 by United State District Judge Thomas E. Johnston. He could face up to 40 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a $500 fine. He owes $871,288.34 in restitution.
“I devised and executed a scheme to defraud a charitable non-profit organization,” Cisco explained in a statement presented to the court. “I rerouted money intended for suffering West Virginians to my personal account, illegally obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“My position as (VOAD’s) finance and operations manager gave me the unique ability to carry out the scheme,” Cisco continued. “At all relevant times, I had control over the charity’s finances; I had access to the charity’s debit cards; and I regularly worked with the charity’s accountant.”
Cisco said he used four accounts in the process of committing the fraud:
• VOAD’s account with JP Morgan Chase;
• VOAD’s account with Branch Banking and Trust (BB&T), now Truist;
• VOAD’s fundraising account with Flipcause; and
• Cisco’s personal banking account also with Truist.
“I designed the scheme as a two-step process to make the transfers appear legitimate and to hide that I was misappropriating (VOAD’s) funds for my personal use,” he stated.
Cisco said he used VOAD’s debit cards to transfer money to the Flipcause accounts which would be recorded as donations. He, as VOAD’s official and only contact with Flipcause, would have those funds transferred to his personal banking account which he had linked to VOAD’s Flipcause account.
“I executed this two-step process on over 100 occasions,” Cisco said. “I created fictitious documents to convince (VOAD’s) accountant that the transfers to Flipcause were legitimate. My position as the finance manager gave me the unique ability to cover up the scheme.”
In addition to the cash transfers, Cisco said he defrauded VOAD of almost $300,000 in false travel reimbursements and $67,560 from Lowe’s gift cards which he used for his own benefit.
Assistant United States attorneys Holly Wilson and Erik S. Goes prosecuted the case. Cisco was represented by Federal Public Defender Wesley P. Page.
According to its website, WV VOAD is an association of independent organizations that may be active in all phases of disasters. Its mission is to identify unmet needs and to facilitate efficient and streamlined service delivery to those “imperiled or impacted by disaster while eliminating duplication” of services.
WV VOAD is the state chapter of the national VOAD organization. The group responds to the four phases of disasters: preparation, response, recovery and mitigation.