City could drop case if Harris pays loss

NEW CUMBERLAND – The City of Weirton may be willing to drop embezzlement charges against former Mayor Mark Harris if he agrees to make restitution to the city, court records said.

A letter from City Solicitor Vince Gurrera to Hancock County Assistant Prosecutor David F. Cross dated Jan. 29 said, “The city is willing to accept the total sum due ($16,273.22) to be paid to the city of Weirton as full restitution with the knowledge that no further criminal prosecution may be the result.”

The letter, filed in Hancock County Circuit Court, notes the “potential pitfalls that can make prosecution extremely difficult” but does not elaborate. It also notes that the city is “concerned with retrieving the funds” allegedly embezzled by Harris.

The letter was written prior to Cross and other Hancock County prosecutors being disqualified from handling the case because of a conflict of interest involving Prosecutor Jim Davis. His daughter, Nicole Davis, is Weirton city clerk, a position she has held since Harris was mayor.

Neither Gurrera nor Harris’ attorney, William E. Galloway, of Weirton, could be reached for comment.

Harris, 44, who now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was indicted by a Hancock County grand jury in September 2013 on three felony counts of embezzlement and one count of conspiracy in connection with the alleged theft of money intended for a skateboard park.

Harris’ wife, Nycole, also is named in the indictment as a co-conspirator.

Harris is accused of stealing $16,273.22 that had been raised for the Weirton Skate Park – a pet project that Harris had campaigned on in 2007. The skate park, which opened in 2009, was paid for with a state grant and donated money that went into a special city account with Harris’ name on it.

The indictment alleges that Harris, who served as mayor from 2007 to 2011, wrote three checks from the skate park account in 2009 and used the money for his own benefit.

Harris did not run for re-election in 2011.

After Harris left office, city officials became suspicious about funds missing from the account, prompting a two-year investigation by the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office and the West Virginia State Police.

Harris and his wife have pleaded not guilty to the charges.