State Auditor: Former Sophia Volunteer Fire Chief sentenced for stealing department funds


BECKLEY, W.Va. – On Monday, Kenneth Churning – former chief of the Sophia Volunteer Fire Department – was sentenced to four years parole after pleading guilty last month, by way of Kennedy Plea, to 61 felony charges for stealing more than $133,000 of department funding. Churning entered his guilty plea on June 17.

In Raleigh County Circuit Court on Monday, Churning pleaded guilty to two counts of embezzlement, six counts of fraudulent schemes, 45 counts of falsifying accounts and eight counts of conspiracy.

From July 2017 through December 2019, investigators found that Churning stole $118,509.47 from the fire department through ATM and cash withdrawals, $13,740 in cash back transactions, and $1,205.11 through personal expense reimbursement. The theft represents more than 65% of all funding received by the Sophia Volunteer Fire Department during that two-year period.

This taxpayer money was intended to be used by the Sofia Volunteer Fire Department to help protect the community and to help outfit volunteer firefighters, to ensure they have the equipment they need in cases of emergency, instead Churning used the money to enrich himself.

The West Virginia State Auditor’s Public Integrity and Fraud Unit worked in conjunction with the Raleigh County Prosecutor, Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office, Fayette County Sheriff’s Office and Sophia Police Department on this investigation.

State Auditor John B. McCuskey applauded the cooperative efforts to uncover the theft of taxpayer dollars and to secure a conviction.

On Monday, Raleigh County Circuit Judge Robert Burnside, Jr. sentenced Churning to a sentence of 4 to 35 years, which was suspended for four years of supervised probation. Churning will also be required to pay restitution for what he stole and for costs associated with the investigation of this theft; the specific amount will be determined at a later date. If at any point during his probation Churning fails to comply with the terms and conditions of his probation or fails to pay restitution, he could be sent to prison to serve the 4 to 35 year sentence.


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