CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Bob Henry Baber, former Richwood mayor and a candidate for statewide political office in multiple elections, was arraigned today on fraud and embezzlement charges.
Baber’s arrest follows last week’s charges against 3 other current and former officials in Richwood, all related to the city’s finances. Baber had been out of town.
Mayor Chris Drennen and former City Recorder Abby McClung face embezzlement charges. Police Chief Lloyd Allen Cogar is accused of mishandling his state-issued purchasing card, including buying tires and services at “Allen’s Discount Tire Store,” which he owns.
During a Friday evening emergency meeting, council members voted to ask Drennen to resign and to terminate Cogar’s employment. Drennen has publicly proclaimed her innocence.
Baber is accused of making dozens of inappropriate purchases on his state-issued purchasing card. He is also accused of issuing himself a City of Richwood check for a period for flood work for the week before and the week after he became mayor.
Baber, a poet who has also run for governor and U.S. Senator, offered only a short, cryptic comment when reached this afternoon by telephone.
“Some truths have come out,” Baber said. “More yet are to come.”
A criminal complaint filed by the State Police states that Baber used his purchasing card for 86 transactions amounting to $6,245.17, “many of which were not pre-approved or authorized by City Council.”
Of those 86 transactions, the criminal complaint alleges, there were 24 instances when no receipt or invoice was provided to substantiate the stated expense. And there were 33 others that appear to be personal, according to the criminal complaint.
“Even more disturbing is that Mr. Baber admitted to giving his purchasing card to other people on at least 19 separate occasions,” according to the criminal complaint.
The criminal complaint also alleges Baber issued himself a paycheck on April 27, 2017, for $3,640, claiming work done during the two-week pay period that had actually ended the prior July 8.
Baber had taken office that July 1.
“Effectively, he paid himself for volunteer work that was done the week prior to him becoming mayor and his first week in office as Mayor of Richwood, abusing his authority and converting Richwood city money for his own use,” the criminal complaint alleges.
This all stems from an investigation by the state Auditor’s Office that started more than a year ago.
During that time, Baber was removed as the town’s mayor, in large part because of spending irregularities. The Auditor’s Office looked not only at Baber’s financial habits but also more broadly at the city’s handling of money.
Richwood was among the West Virginia communities hardest hit by catastrophic flooding in 2016. More than 200 homes were hit and roads and infrastructure were destroyed.
Baber took office as mayor — for the second time — right when the flood hit. So his administration began in devastation.
Richwood Council asked Baber to resign in September, 2017, over undocumented spending on his state-issued purchasing card. He contended that Council did not have the right to remove him. Council then moved to impeach Baber.
Baber called multiple press conferences in front of the Auditor’s Office that year, acknowledging disorganized spending habits on the purchasing card but insisting he had done nothing wrong.
Baber filed a lawsuit against Richwood Council and the Auditor’s office, which had already started its broader investigation of the town’s spending. The Auditor was dismissed, and the lawsuit moved to Nicholas County.
In May 2018, a three-judge panel was appointed to hear whether Richwood’s city council was within its rights to remove Baber as mayor. The panel that July upheld his removal from office, agreeing that his conduct constituted “maladministration, official misconduct, and/or financial mismanagement.”
The judges agreed that he had misused his purchasing card, lacked proper documentation for expenditures and sometimes handed his card to others to make purchases.
Through much of that scrutiny, Baber contended the stress of dealing with a major disaster had created major stress, explaining his mindset.
He previously served as mayor of Richwood, starting in 2004.
Late in that term, he was also investigated, this time on ethics charges and election fraud. A week before impeachment allegations were to be heard by a three-judge panel in Nicholas Circuit Court, Baber resigned and accepted a position at Glenville State College.
In that case, he told Beckley’s Register-Herald newspaper that he thought others in the county were out to get him politically. In a separate conversation this morning, he reiterated that.
“I can tell you that a pattern of harassment of me exists in this county despite all my efforts to try to do good for Richwood,” he told the Beckley newspaper in.2007. “We’ve got a cluster of folks here who live to thwart.”