Ex-fire employee pleads guilty of embezzlement


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MANASSAS — The Dale City Volunteer Fire Department’:s former financial administrator pleaded guilty in court Wednesday to embezzling $154,900 from fire department bank accounts.

Harry Lee Pendleton, 60, pleaded guilty to embezzlement in Prince William Circuit Court after giving the fire department a check for $120,000 Wednesday morning as an initial restitution payment.

Pendleton, of 6252 River View Drive in King George County, will face up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced Jan. 17.

Although sentencing guidelines from the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission recommend Pendleton serve no jail time, Judge LeRoy F. Millette Jr. told Pendleton: “I very well may put you in jail because certainly this was a large amount of money.”

Under terms of a plea agreement, Prince William prosecutors recommend Millette sentence Pendleton within the sentencing guidelines.

The judge, however, is not bound by that recommendation or the guidelines.

The fire department, devastated by the embezzlement, recently mailed a letter to people in Dale City and nearby asking for support.

“The person charged with these acts against DCVFD was a trusted employee who worked for the Department for more than 6 years,” Fire Department President Elizabeth A. Stoy wrote in the letter. “We want the members of our community to know that we have been victimized by an unscrupulous individual, and now, more than ever, we need your support.”

The department has received many calls of support, Stoy said Wednesday.

“Our goal is to make sure that we get every penny back because that is money that we need to perform our service to the community,” she said. “The fact that he is making an attempt at restitution now is a positive thing.”

Stoy also said the department, which has an annual budget of about $2.1 million, is using an outside firm to review the fire department’:s accounting system and make recommendations to stop wrongdoing by individuals.

The fire department discovered the missing money after Pendleton retired and an audit was done so the department could get a loan to build a new fire station on the Prince William Parkway.

Pendleton worked as a part-time administrator for the department, earning $23,000 a year.

He wrote himself eight checks from fire department accounts between Sept. 28, 1998, and Oct. 17, 2000, Prince William Detective Bryan W. Simms said in court Wednesday. The total of the eight checks is $154,900.21.

Pendleton used a check for $35,000 to buy himself a 2000 Jeep Cherokee, according to court records. The fire department alleged in a lawsuit it filed against Pendleton that he bought “new vehicles, boats and other luxuries” with the embezzled money.

The embezzlement charge encompasses all the money, said Assistant Commonwealth’:s Attorney John V. Notarianni. The fire department also plans to ask the judge to make Pendleton pay $16,975 to cover the cost of an audit necessary to uncover the embezzlement.

Pendleton is “extremely sorry” and has sold or mortgaged his home, a motorcycle and other possessions to pay restitution, and cashed in retirement accounts, said defense attorney E. Allen Newcomb.

“Mr. Pendleton has one ambition right now and that is to pay this money back,” Newcomb told the judge.

Pendleton, who retired from IBM’:s former plant in Manassas, has been under psychiatric care since March, and was diagnosed by a doctor as suffering from major depressive disorder, Newcomb said.

The embezzlement may have been related to the disorder before the depression was diagnosed, he said.

Pendleton remains free on bond as he awaits sentencing.

He plans to begin work today at an engineering job with a salary of $23,000 to help cover restitution, Newcomb said.

Staff writer Patrick Wilson can be reached at (703) 368-7449.

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