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Former Cherryville police chief pleads guilty to embezzling city funds

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer
 
Cherryville Police Department’s former entered a plea agreement Monday for stealing to stealing more than $11,000 in city funds, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in North Carolina’s Western district.
Woodrow Paul Burgess, 60, of Cherryville, made the city’s Chief Finance Director Bonny Alexander give him nine city checks for personal use, federal officials said.
Burgess used the checks to purchase firearms for himself between January 2007 and November 2008, according to federal court documents.
The former law enforcement leaders bought the weapons from The Great Outdoors in Cherryville.
Federal officials said Alexander marked the use of the particular city funds as a “cash-out” for “comp time” for Burgess, as he requested.
However, the city does not allow cash payments for compensatory time, vacation or sick leave, a U.S. Attorney’s Office press release said.
Agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation searched Burgess’s property in April but did not disclose the exact nature of their investigation at the time.
Burgess pleaded guilty to one felony count of program embezzlement and faces up to a decade in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
He has also been ordered to forfeit all firearms and cash he illegally took from the city, the release said.
Burgess retired from the department in October in the midst of a separate agency scandal in which three Cherryville officers, a Gaston County Sheriff’s reserve officer and two city residents were involved in an illegal operation with undercover FBI agents, transporting stolen goods through the area in 2011. All defendants in the case have since pleaded guilty.
In March, Chad Hawkins, a former City of Gastonia police sergeant, took over Cherryville’s chief of police position. 
Burgess is set to appear in court on Tuesday.
Alexander has since pleaded guilty to five counts of program embezzlement for taking more than $435,000 from the city, federal officials said.
Both the FBI and SBI investigated the case. Michael Savage, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte, served as lead prosecutor.

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