Former Cherryville Police Chief Woody Burgess was sentenced to probation in federal court Tuesday on embezzlement charges stemming from a 2012 scandal that encompassed nearly a half-dozen city employees.
Judge Robert Conrad Jr. sentenced Burgess, 61, to one year probation, six months on home detention with no electronic monitoring and 100 hours of community service. Burgess will also be required to pay a $1,000 fine; $11,625.64 in restitution to the City of Cherryville; and a $100 special assessment.
Burgess, who was Cherryville’s police chief for about a decade and had previously been an officer in the department, was the last of the defendants caught up in the scandal to be sentenced. He was the only who didn’t get active jail time.
Federal prosecutors said that for nearly a year, Burgess had instructed the city’s then-finance director to issue checks to buy firearms from a sporting goods store for his personal use.
Burgess said the purchases were to make up for “compensatory time.” But authorities said Burgess knew he wasn’t allowed to get cash payments.
On Tuesday, Burgess didn’t address the court, but his lawyer, Melissa Owen, read a letter from him.
“I am so sorry to the court for my actions that have led me to this day,” Burgess wrote. “I am sorry to my community. I have let you down. To my family, I am so sorry for the shame I have brought to our family’s good name. Your honor, I promise that the remainder of my days will be spent doing good work for my community.”
After the sentencing, Owen said the Burgess family was relieved that the court took into consideration the former chief’s “long history of dedicated service to Cherryville and his good works in the community.”
She said Burgess has already repaid all but $500 of the restitution.
In October 2012, Burgess was suspended, and he later retired after FBI agents rounded up six men, including three Cherryville officers and a Gaston County sheriff’s deputy. They were accused of providing protection to trucks carrying stolen goods and cash. All pleaded guilty and were sentenced to prison terms.
The former Cherryville finance director pleaded guilty to embezzling more than $435,000 in city funds and was sentenced to 24 months in prison. The former utility supervisor pleaded guilty of embezzling nearly $100,000 in taxpayers money and was sentenced to 12 months and a day in prison.
“The city has to believe in the judicial system,” Cherryville Mayor H.L. Beam said Tuesday. “I accept this final decision and stand by it.”
He said he hoped Tuesday’s sentencing would “close the door on a dark period the city has gone through.”
“I also hope it will aid in the healing,” he said. “I hope it will restore confidence in the city staff and city government.”