Richwood Mayor charged
by Ron Gregory
Richwood — A thousand-year flood that devastated Richwood in June 2016 may have been used for personal enrichment, according to a Nicholas County grand jury meeting in Summersville.
Richwood Mayor Chris Drennen was indicted on three felony charges Monday afternoon.
The small town Mayor now stands officially accused with two counts of obtaining money under false pretenses and one count of fraudulent schemes.
The charges are the result of a lengthy investigation by State Auditor J.B. McCuskey and others.
Drennen, who was appointed to replace Bob Henry Baber as Richwood’s leader, was initially asked to resign by town council when McCuskey’s report became public but that demand was subsequently withdrawn. She has stated her innocence and remained on the job.
The indictment says Drennen “unlawfully, intentionally, knowingly, willfully and feloniously” obtained money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the citizens of Richwood and the Municipality of Richwood during the flood.
The charges center around an Incident Command Team formed to help the town recover from the devastation.
As Town Recorder at the time, Drennen allegedly paid herself extra money as part of the team. According to McCuskey’s report, Drennen did not deny the allegations but alleged they were legal. She has consistently maintained that town council was aware and approved all expenditures she received.
The indictment says Drennen paid herself extra money a month before the team was formed as well as months after the team was disbanded.
The indictment says, “Drennen and the Incident Command Team’s excessive payments to themselves and their family members inhibited the City of Richwood from recovering from the flood to the benefit of herself and others.”
Drennen’s lawyer said she had no comment which has basically been her position since McCuskey’s audit became public at a press conference in Nicholas County.
Other city officials have been the subject of the investigation but none were named Tuesday. All have maintained innocence and non-familiarity with documenting expenditures for FEMA reimbursement. No formal action had occurred in the case since March 2019.
The audit said Richwood officials personally benefitted financially, along with friends and family members, from grant money FEMA provided for recovery.
Drennen herself was paid $45,179.61 for her flood related work in addition to her $400 per month Recorder salary.
In addition to improperly receiving funds, a count of the indictment says Drennen schemed with other members of the team to fraudulently obtain the money.
The Nicholas County Prosecutor indicated other charges may be forthcoming.