Barbour County Sheriff resigns after pleading guilty to fraud - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Barbour County Sheriff resigns after pleading guilty to mail fraud

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Barbour County Sheriff John W. Hawkins has resigned after admitting he submitted a fraudulent insurance claim in April.

Sheriff John W. Hawkins, 47, of Philipi, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Elkins to a felony Information charging him with mail fraud, U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld said.

Hawkins admitted he drove his 2004 GMC Envoy off the road and hit a tree April 13 and then, with the assistance of one of his deputies, fabricated a report and filed a claim with Nationwide Insurance Co. Nationwide paid him $8,262.65 for damages.

A review of the claim file, however, revealed inconsistencies, Ihlenfeld said. Photos taken by the insurance adjuster and information from the vehicle's data recorder contradicted Hawkins' version of events and witnesses familiar with the scheme also advised investigators that Hawkins' had lied, Ihlenfeld said.

Authorities said Hawkins used the U.S. mail to file the fraudulent claim. He also used his official Barbour County email account to communicate with Nationwide regarding the false claim.

"The defendant used his position as sheriff to take advantage of the insurance claims process and to receive a substantial financial benefit," Ihlenfeld said. "The false accident report that he ordered his deputy to create helped to substantiate his claim, as did the fact that he was a law enforcement officer himself. By abusing the authority of his position Sheriff Hawkins violated the trust that the citizens of Barbour County placed in him when he was elected."

As part of his plea agreement, Hawkins must make full restitution to Nationwide. He also was required to resign as sheriff, to relinquish his West Virginia Law Enforcement Certification, and to agree to never again serve as a law enforcement officer.

In return, the U.S. Attorney's Office agreed not to pursue other investigations into Hawkins' conduct, including his alleged mishandling of an estate in his official capacity as sheriff, allegations of missing funds from the sheriff's tax office and potential civil rights violations.

The investigation into others who may have been involved in the scheme is ongoing, Ihlenfeld said.

Hawkins faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 when he is sentenced. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines the actual sentence imposed will be based upon the seriousness of the offense and his prior criminal history, if any.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John C. Parr and investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office Public Corruption Unit. Agents and officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the West Virginia State Police led the inquiry. Assistance was provided by the West Virginia Insurance Commission, Fraud Investigations Division.