Beckley firefighter pleads guilty to mail fraud

BECKLEY, W.Va. – A Beckley firefighter pled guilty today to committing mail fraud, announced United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  Michael Cowger, 50, admitted that he fraudulently received over $20,000 from the City of Beckley, West Virginia University, and Beaver Volunteer Fire Department. 

Stuart commended the investigative efforts of the West Virginia Commission on Special Investigations and the Beckley Police Department.

“First responders – firefighters, policeman and others – are role models and heroes in our communities,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart.  “It is disheartening when someone who should be a role model is responsible for fraud and deceit,” said United States Attorney Mike Stuart. “Although the resulting losses may seem minimal to some,  no level of fraud is insignificant when committed by an individual in a position of trust.”   

Cowger served as a firefighter at the Beckley Fire Department, worked as a part-time instructor for West Virginia University’s College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, and volunteered at the Beaver Fire Department, where he held the position of Fire Chief.   

Cowger admitted that he submitted reimbursement requests for supplies, travel, and training expenses to those entities, when he knew he had already sought reimbursements  for the same expenses or another entity had already paid the expenses. For example,  Cowger used his West Virginia University Purchasing Card (“P-Card”), a credit card that WVU paid directly, to purchase gas and rent a vehicle for certain trainings, yet also requested mileage from the City of Beckley for those same trainings, falsely indicating that he used his personal vehicle for the same travel, when in fact he had used a vehicle rented via the P-Card.

Cowger also admitted that to complete his scheme, at times he created fictitious and duplicate receipts on his computer. He also admitted that he manipulated his hotel and training reservations and payments at times to ensure that he received two receipts with two different credit card numbers for the same events to conceal from the City of Beckley that he had used a WVU P-Card to pay for the events.

Cowger agreed to pay restitution in the following amounts: $15,638.28 to the City of Beckley; $5,099.64 to West Virginia University; and $204.85 to the Beaver Volunteer Fire Department.

Cowger faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced on September 17, 2018.

Assistant United States Attorney Meredith George Thomas is in charge of the prosecution. United States District Judge Irene C. Burger presided over the hearing.

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