Sheron Gibson won the trust of his union – too much, in fact. On March 5, Gibson, a former firefighter for the City of Suffolk, Va. fire department, pleaded guilty in a state court to one count each of embezzlement and forgery in connection with his theft of about $109,000 from International Association of Firefighters Local 2801, where he was secretary-treasurer for a half-decade. He had been indicted last June on 12 counts of embezzlement and one count of forgery following a police investigation. Gibson has made full restitution.
Gibson, now 41, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., had served as secretary-treasurer of his union from 2008 until around early 2014. He was well-regarded among his peers. Though a volunteer, he was named Firefighter of the Year in 2009. With a background as a medic, he taught emergency medical courses to fire department personnel in Suffolk, a sprawling city of about 85,000 in southeast Virginia. And he owned a business, Virginia Fire Extinguishers Inc., which provided sales and services for extinguishers and other workplace safety products. It was the financial problems of that enterprise that played a major part in his downfall.
On February 24 of last year, IAFF Local 2801 President Travis Peirce was notified that a union check payable to a Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraising event had bounced. Suspicious that other checks had been returned, he hired a forensic accountant, who discovered a total of 67 checks payable to Gibson, none of them authorized. As a volunteer, in fact, none of the checks should have been written out to him in the first place. Peirce contacted local law enforcement. The subsequent investigation found that a debit card, obtained by Gibson without authorization, was used to pay recurring bills on accounts the union never opened. The main purpose of this activity, as it turned out, was to pay bills owed by Virginia Fire Extinguishers.
Gibson managed to escape detection for so long because the required annual audits had not been conducted. One seemingly legitimate audit, dated at sometime in 2012, was a forgery. At least Gibson owned up to his thefts. When Peirce confronted Gibson about the missing funds, the latter admitted he had taken more than $90,000, a figure that prosecutors later raised at $109,000. And Gibson eventually did pay that sum back. Sentencing is set for May 21.