CHESTER - In the six years that Chester has held its Fourth of July celebration, the festival - one of the largest in the area - has come to be associated with the name of one man.
David Nurmi emerged as the event's chief organizer, even as other members of the Chester Centennial Committee let their involvement lapse.
Now he stands accused of misusing funds from the festival's bank account.
Nurmi, 71, of Chester, appeared in Hancock County Magistrate Court on Friday on nine felony embezzlement counts alleging the theft of $2,550 from the committee.
A complaint filed by West Virginia Trooper Donald Meredith II said Nurmi, on nine separate occasions from June 24 to Nov. 5, 2013, withdrew funds in varying amounts for his own use.
In a sworn statement, Nurmi told Meredith that he made withdrawals to "satisfy debt that had been incurred by extended family members," the complaint said.
Meredith began his investigation in March after being contacted by Chester Mayor Ken Morris about concerns having to do with Chester Centennial Committee funds, the complaint said.
"I don't know facts and figures, but when I found out there was a discrepancy, I took it to our solicitor (April Raines)," Morris said, noting that she advised him to give the information to the West Virginia State Police.
Although he declined to discuss details, Morris said the discrepancy had to do with checks written on the committee's checking account at Hancock County Savings Bank.
Every year, the committee receives $10,000 each from the Chester Volunteer Fire Department, Chester VFW Post 6450 and Chester American Legion Post 121 to cover the costs of the festival, which attracts an estimated 17,000 out-of-town visitors on the Fourth of July.
The committee also gets a $4,700 donation from the city via the West Virginia Development Office, Morris said.
The mayor said he had no choice but to report allegations of fraudulent activity involving donated money from the state and charitable organizations.
But Nurmi said the case is the result of a big misunderstanding that he hopes to clear up soon.
"It totally boils down to a miscommunication as to the allocation of funds," he said. "I do have the proper documentation that those monies were properly spent for the Chester Centennial Committee Fourth of July activities."
Nurmi, a substitute teacher for Hancock County Schools, said he wishes the mayor had contacted him directly before going to the authorities.
On Friday, Magistrate Michael White gave Nurmi more time to hire an attorney and said the charges likely will be consolidated into one count. He also continued Nurmi's 10 percent cash/personal recognizance bond.
Nurmi's next court appearance is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 13.
Chester City Council recently appointed Randy Friley as chairman of the Fourth of July committee. The appointment was made at the behest of Chester Fire Chief John Hissam, who said Nurmi told him he no longer wanted to be chairman.
Hissam said a committee of six to eight people is meeting regularly to plan the next festival.
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