BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WSFA) - An east Alabama woman has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison after being convicted for stealing from multiple volunteer fire departments.
Andrea Payne, 63, of Opelika, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in April, according to U.S. Attorney Jay E. Town and FBI Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr.
She previously served as the Treasurer of the Talladega County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments. The plea agreement states that between 2012 and 2018, the Association received quarterly checks from the Talladega County Commission as distributions from a two-cent sales tax revenue.
Payne was tasked with evenly dispersing the money to fifteen volunteer fire departments throughout the county, but investigators found that she embezzled more than $640,000 and used it to pay for her personal credit card.
“Our brave first responders often do more with less, so it is especially aggravating when the public trust is violated not only for the sake of greed but at the ultimate expense of public safety,” Town said. “Payne will repay her debt over the next 42 months which comes as little comfort to the citizens protected by the Talladega County Association of Volunteer Fire Departments and the Association itself.”
“This case should send a message to the citizens of north Alabama, if you choose to violate the public trust and steal tax payer dollars, the FBI and our partners will be right behind you,” Sharp said. “Payne will now spend the next several years behind bars reflecting on her actions."
The FBI investigated the case, along with the Talladega County Sheriff’s Office and the Talladega District Attorney’s Office, which Assistant U.S. Attorney Robin Beardsley Mark prosecuted.
Payne, initially charged with 10 counts of wire fraud, faced a maximum penalty for each count of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.