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Former Cherryville police chief pleads guilty to embezzlement

JENNA-LEY HARRISON
Staff Writer

The Cherryville Police Department’s former chief formally pleaded guilty in federal court Tuesday to stealing more than $11,000 in city funds, according to the United States Attorney’s Office in North Carolina’s Western district.
Between January 2007 and November 2008, Woodrow Paul Burgess, 60, of Cherryville, requested the city’s Chief Finance Director Bonny Alexander issue him nine city checks for personal use, federal officials said.
However, he told Alexander to mark the use of the funds as a “cash-out” for “comp time.”
Burgess used the checks to purchase firearms for himself at The Great Outdoors in Cherryville, according to federal court documents.
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.
A sentencing date has yet to be scheduled.
He has also been ordered to forfeit all firearms and cash that 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.
Alexander has also pleaded guilty in the case 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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