Former Summers County Commissioner Jerry Berry was sentenced yesterday, December 2nd, to an additional 1-10 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $53,346 to the owner of www.WVyourWay.com, Bill Hawkins.
Mr. Berry pled guilty last month to a count of Fraudulent Schemes against WVyourWay, the company he worked for handling their books and customer service. He had been hired in May of 2009 and began embezzling from nearly his first day on the job. It wasn’t until May of the next year (2010) that it was confirmed to Mr. Hawkins that Mr. Berry was embezzling money when Mr. Berry refused to turn over the books and instead threatened to destroy them. Therefore, Mr. Hawkins fired Mr. Berry and ordered him to turn over all records.
The next day Jerry Berry registered a business with the West Virginia Secretary of State’s office with an identical name, but as a corporation. A practice which is no longer allowed by the Secretary of States Office. With his new company name and as part of his scheme, he continued to cash checks made out to WVyourWay and represent himself to still be working for the company.
Mr. Berry was ordered through a letter from the attorney for WVyourWay to cease and desist and to return equipment to the company still in his possession. However, Mr. Berry continued his embezzlement and fraudulent scheme and never returned anything belonging to WVyourWay.
Mr. Hawkins was not able to get any law enforcement agency to do an investigation even though he had evidence of over $3,000 Mr. Berry had embezzled; which is more than enough to prove a felony took place. However, undeterred, Mr. Hawkins continued to seek justice and conducted his own investigation.
WVyourWay was finally allowed to view bank records belonging to the company, but which had been in the sole possession of Mr. Berry through his fraudulent scheme and discovered the amount he had actually stolen was $46,646. At that point the Prosecuting Attorney for Mercer County, Scott Ash, brought an indictment through the Mercer County Grand Jury against Mr. Berry in December of 2012.
Mr. Hawkins was later told by an attorney in the prosecutor’s office, “I’ve been in the prosecutor’s office over 20 years and in all that time I’ve never seen a private citizen bring an indictment against another citizen without law enforcement help.” However, Mr. Hawkins would have to wait another four years before he would finally see justice.
After the original judge recused himself and the following judge (who had thrown Mr. Berry’s original plea deal out because it was illegal) accepted a federal judgeship, Judge Robert Irons was assigned the case.
Jerry Berry once again pled guilty to a Fraudulent Scheme charge and the state agreed to drop the Embezzlement charge in return. Yesterday, December 2, 2016, Mr. Berry faced Judge Irons in court dressed in an orange jumpsuit and shackles from his previous conviction of embezzling from Summers County while he served the citizens of that county as one of their three county commissioners.
Before sentencing Mr. Hawkins was allowed to give a victim impact statement and as part of that statement he read a letter from his youngest daughter who had been a teenager at the time of Mr. Berry’s crime. In that statement Anna Hawkins stated, “This man had taken away everything. Now, money is just money, but we all know that to survive we need some, and this man didn’t care how much of it he took; he never thought of these consequences. As long as at the end of the day his pocket felt fatter and his heart felt blacker.”
Mr. Berry verbally said he took responsibility for his actions, but in reality he tried to make himself out to look like the victim in spite of the evidence against him and his own guilty plea. When it came time to be sentenced Judge Irons told Mr. Berry that he found his conduct and inability to accept responsibility for his actions, “reprehensible.” He then ordered Mr. Berry to pay $53,346 in restitution to Mr. Hawkins and to serve 1-10 years in prison consecutively to the time he was already serving for his crime against the people of Summers County. Meaning, Jerry Berry will serve an additional 1-10 years in prison after satisfying the previous conviction.
After the sentencing Mr. Hawkins was asked how he felt and he responded, “All I ever wanted was justice in this case. Jerry Berry had put me and my family through a tremendous ordeal, the extent of only me and my daughter Anna truly know. I don’t feel overjoyed, but I do feel satisfaction in feeling justice has finally been served.”
Mr. Berry was led away in handcuffs with the knowledge he would be spending at least another year in prison for his crimes.