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Judge asks gubernatorial candidate to comment on former colleague's embezzlement case

UMWA Labor day Picnic (copy)

Stephen Smith, a Democrat running for governor, speaks at the annual United Mine Workers Labor Day Picnic in Racine in September 2019.

A Kanawha circuit judge has delayed the sentencing of Christopher Kimes so two of his former colleagues can give statements and list a restitution amount following his guilty plea to embezzling money from a local charity.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Tod Kaufman on Monday asked that former West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition Executive Director Stephen Smith appear next week at Kimes’ sentencing. Smith is a Democratic candidate for governor.

Kaufman said the court was promised victim impact statements from the organization, but those were never received. The judge also asked the nonprofit’s current executive director, Jennifer Wells, to give a statement next week.

Kaufman said the organization hasn’t submitted an itemized restitution amount. The group, which is focused on child welfare, changed its name to Our Future West Virginia earlier this year.

Smith campaign spokeswoman Lissa Lucas said in an email Monday that he had not been contacted by the court but will comment if he receives a letter or notice. Wells also responded by email, saying only that she is preparing a statement.

Smith served as the organization’s executive director before Wells took over, although he was on sabbatical from October 2017 to March 2018.

Kimes, the former director of political affairs for group, pleaded guilty Jan. 9 to one count of embezzlement. Kimes originally faced five counts of embezzlement and one computer fraud charge.

Kimes linked the group’s credit card to his partner’s PayPal account and made a total of 83 unauthorized transactions, transferring $62,457.66 from the nonprofit from July 2016 to December 2018, according to a criminal complaint.

The group discovered the embezzlement in a January 2019 audit. The organization fired Kimes and turned over its findings to the Charleston Police Department.

Wells told the Gazette-Mail then she did not know exactly what kind of purchases Kimes made.

In an email, Smith told the Gazette-Mail at the time that his heart went out to the group’s staff, board and community partners, who “do not deserve this distraction from their crucial work to make West Virginia a more just and generous place.” Smith said the coalition received a clean audit from an outside accounting firm every year he was executive director.

“Almost every West Virginian can relate to the feeling of having someone you care about steal from you. It is a terrible feeling,” he said.

Kimes’ sentencing is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. March 18.

Reach Joe Severino at

joe.severino@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow

@jj_severino on Twitter.

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