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Firefighter admits to theft

A former Suffolk firefighter pleaded guilty on Thursday to embezzlement and forgery in a scheme that stole about $109,000 from the local firefighters’ union.

Sheron Alen Gibson Sr., 41, faced 12 counts of embezzlement in addition to the forgery charge but pleaded guilty to only one count each of embezzlement and forgery as part of a plea agreement.

Gibson was secretary/treasurer of the Local 2801 of the International Association of Fire Fighters from 2008 to 2013, according to evidence presented in court by prosecutor Marilyn Sallee.

On Feb. 24, 2014, president Travis Peirce was notified that a check made payable to the Muscular Dystrophy Association had been returned for insufficient funds. The firefighters do a fundraiser for the MDA every year, and the check that was returned was for the proceeds of the fundraiser, Sallee said in court.

That was the first indication that there was a problem with the union’s bank accounts, Sallee said. Peirce contacted law enforcement.

A forensic accountant found that 67 checks payable to Gibson, none of which had been authorized by the union, had been written on the account. As his was a volunteer position, “No check at all should have been made payable to the defendant,” Sallee said in court.

In addition, a debit card was used to pay recurring monthly bills for accounts the union never opened. The debit card in itself was not authorized, Sallee said.

The account also was being used to pay vendors for Gibson’s business, Virginia Fire Extinguishers Inc., which sells and services fire extinguishers and other workplace safety products.

Sallee said yearly audits on the union’s account were not being performed as required. One purported audit, dated in 2012, appeared to have been done by a legitimate auditor who had worked with the union previously, but it turned out to be a forgery, including the business’s letterhead and the signature on the report.

When Peirce confronted Gibson about the missing money, Sallee said, Gibson admitted to Peirce he had stolen more than $90,000.

Sallee said full restitution has been made to the union.

Gibson declined comment as he left the courtroom on Thursday morning.

Gibson was named Firefighter of the Year in 2009. He served as a firefighter and medic. At the time of the Firefighter of the Year award, he taught emergency medical courses to fire department personnel and worked as an emergency care technician at Sentara Obici Hospital. He served in the U.S. Navy Reserves for four years.

A sentencing date is set for May 21. The other 11 charges of embezzlement were not prosecuted as part of the plea agreement.