BERRYVILLE — The former interim executive director of Berryville Main Street has been ordered to repay the $4,874 he stole from the nonprofit organization.
In a plea bargain on Monday in Clarke County Circuit Court, Christian Miles Bentley pleaded no contest — which is considered a conviction by the courts — to felony and misdemeanor embezzlement charges.
In addition to paying restitution, he must perform 50 hours of community service and maintain good behavior for a year. If he complies with the terms of the plea bargain, the felony embezzlement charge will be amended to a misdemeanor, he will receive a one-year suspended sentence and the misdemeanor charge will be dropped. If he doesn’t comply, he will be found guilty on both charges. State sentencing guideline recommendations, which are discretionary for judges, call for probation rather than imprisonment.
The embezzlement occurred from Oct. 22, 2018, to Jan. 3 while Berryville Main Street, which promotes local businesses and tourism, was seeking a new executive director.
Cyrus Scott Morgan, Clarke County assistant commonwealth’s attorney, told Judge Alexander R. Iden that Bentley photographed the group’s credit card with his phone and used the numbers on it to make personal purchases. Nathan Stalvey, Berryville Main Street board president, previously told The Winchester Star that the purchases included hotel stays in Washington, D.C., $200 dinners in Georgetown, Lyft and Uber rides, winery visits and a defensive driving course.
Bentley’s responsibilities as interim executive director included collecting the group’s mail, Morgan said, and he withheld credit card statements from Berryville Main Street’s accountant. Kim Ragland, the group’s treasurer, eventually uncovered financial discrepancies and notified police.
Bentley wouldn’t comment after Monday’s sentencing.
According to Morgan, Bentley previously told board members that he would repay the money, but he didn’t. Bentley also failed to show up for two meetings with police.
The 31-year-old Bentley’s criminal record includes an amended assault and battery conviction in Winchester Circuit Court in 2011. Bentley, who received a 12-month suspended sentence, was originally charged with sexual battery in 2010. A woman told police that while she was sleeping, Bentley groped her, according to a criminal complaint.
Stalvey said no criminal background check was done on Bentley when he was hired as interim executive director. Bentley, who joined the six-member board as a volunteer in May of 2018, was recommended for the interim position by Elizabeth “Lizzie” Ryan, the group’s former executive director, who Bentley replaced in October. Sophia Smyser was named the new executive director on Jan. 22.
Berryville Main Street, which formed in 1992, had $91,747 in gross receipts and $55,747 in assets in its most recent financial disclosure, according to Guidestar, a website that tracks nonprofit and not-for-profit groups. Stalvey said the group receives about $20,000 annually from the town, with the remainder of its funding comes from membership fees from local businesses.
Ragland said after the sentencing that because Berryville Main Street receives taxpayer money, the embezzlement was a violation against the entire town. The group has since increased its financial oversight. The group’s credit card is in Ragland’s possession and is only used for board-approved spending. A petty cash fund has been established for small purchases.
Ragland said she’s unsure if Bentley, who is supposed to start making $400 monthly payments beginning Sept. 1, will make good on the restitution.
“He’s been given a gift,” she said of the plea bargain. “It’s his choice whether he uses it or not.”
Shortly after the sentencing, Berryville Main Street announced in a news release that it is closing its Fire House Gallery on Sept. 30. The gallery, at 23 E. Main St., is an economic development project that features handmade arts and crafts from local and regional artists and provides space for start-up businesses. Ragland said the closing is unrelated to the Bentley case.