Barbour County Sheriff Admits to Fraud, Resigns Position
|U.S. Attorney’s Office February 20, 2014|
ELKINS, WV—The Barbour County sheriff admitted to insurance fraud on Thursday in federal court and resigned his position as the chief law enforcement officer in the county.
United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II announced that JOHN W. HAWKINS, 47 years of age, of Philipi, West Virginia, entered a guilty plea to a felony Information charging him with mail fraud. HAWKINS admitted to staging an automobile accident in April of 2013 and then, with the assistance of one his deputies, fabricating a report for submission to Nationwide Insurance Company so that his claim would be approved. HAWKINS asserted that while driving his 2004 GMC Envoy, he accidentally drove off Jerusalem Church Road in Philipi and ran into a tree. However, a review of the claim file revealed inconsistencies in HAWKINS’ story. Photographs taken by the insurance adjuster and information from the vehicle’s data recorder contradicted HAWKINS’ version of events. Witnesses familiar with the scheme advised investigators that the story provided by HAWKINS was false.
HAWKINS used the United States mail to make a fraudulent claim in the amount of $8,262.65, which was paid to him by Nationwide last year. HAWKINS also used his official Barbour County e-mail account to communicate with Nationwide regarding his false claim.
“The defendant used his position as sheriff to take advantage of the insurance claims process and to receive a substantial financial benefit,” said U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld. “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 Insurance Company. HAWKINS also is required to resign as the sheriff of Barbour County, to relinquish his West Virginia law enforcement certification, and to agree to never again serve as a law enforcement officer.
The United States Attorney’s Office agreed not to pursue other investigations into the conduct of HAWKINS, 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, according to Ihlenfeld.
HAWKINS faces up to 20 years 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 United States Attorney John C. Parr and was 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 into HAWKINS. Assistance was provided by the West Virginia Insurance Commission, Fraud Investigations Division.
Ihlenfeld urges anyone with information regarding public corruption in their community to call the West Virginia Public Corruption Hotline at 855-WVA-FEDS (1-855-982-3337), or to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.