SUMMERSVILLE, W.Va. — Former Richwood Mayor Bob Henry Baber was sentenced to 1-10 years in prison Tuesday after a previous guilty plea in connection with how money was spent following the June 2016 flood.
In sentencing Baber to prison time, Nicholas County Circuit Judge Steve Callaghan rejected a recommendation from prosecutors that Baber be granted probation.
Special Prosecutor Steve Connolly said Callaghan told Baber he had violated the public trust.
According to Connolly the judge said,'”At the time that you committed this crime you were the mayor of the town and people of the town voted for you and entrusted you to carry out things to the greatest efficiency for them and the community and you abused that.'”
Baber, 70, was escorted out of the courtroom after Tuesday’s hearing and taken to the Central Regional Jail to begin his sentence. Connolly said he could be up for parole in the near future.
“With it being a non-violent felony, they have this accelerated parole process through the Parole Board, it would extradite the time he’s in. In a few months he could be eligible,” Connolly said.
Baber pleaded guilty in August to a prosecutor’s information to obtaining money by false pretenses, a felony. Connolly said Baber was forthcoming after receiving a target letter that he was under investigation. He said that’s why prosecutors recommended no jail time.
“Not because he’s a good person or a good guy or had good intentions but it was the situation we were left with,” Connolly told MetroNews Tuesday.
Baber defrauded the city in the amount of $2,443. He told the city’s payroll clerk to pay him for work he said he did after the flood but prior to taking office.
“It was short period of time some of which he wasn’t even in the state,” Connolly said.
Prosecutors dropped several other charges against Baber as part of the agreement. Some of those charges had to do with alleged illegal purchases made by Baber’s state-issued purchasing card.
Baber did not speak during Tuesday’s sentencing. He apologized during his August plea hearing.
“It was a terrible lapse of judgment to press for payment for volunteer flood recovery work performed before I was sworn in as Mayor. I clearly and unequivocally recognize it was illegal, wrong, and unethical. I pressured Clerk Abby McClung to write the check in the amount of $2,443.64,” Baber said in parBaber will continue to help investigators who are still looking for about $1.3 million of $3 million in funds allocated to Richwood following the flood. State police charged Baber, former Richwood recorder and former mayor Chris Drennen, former city clerk McClung and former police chief Lloyd Cogar in March 2019 in connection with the investigation.
Connolly said the other defendants are in a pretrial diversion stage and are required to cooperate with investigators.
“This isn’t over,” Connolly said.
He said what happened in the months following the flood was a “perfect storm.”
Connolly said Nicholas County had no county official to oversee flood recovery so Richwood officials established their own incident command team that “blew up the payroll” and told everyone they would eventually be reimbursed by the federal government.
According to Connolly the team added people to the flood recovery payroll.
“They determined who got paid, when, how much, where the money went. It was a shadow government,” he said.
Connolly said the investigation lost two years when after the charges were initially filed by the state, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for southern West Virginia took the case for months before deciding not to prosecute. He said they received the information back from federal prosecutors earlier this year.