VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A former Virginia Beach economic development director has pleaded guilty to felony embezzlement by a public official, after investigators say he used city funding to help pay for trips around the world and secure tickets to sporting events.
Warren Harris, 64, pleaded guilty Wednesday to four counts, the Office of Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Colin Stolle announced. Harris was indicted on 14 felony embezzlement charges back in November 2019.
Stolle’s office said Harris illegally used the public funds in the final years of his tenure as director from 2007 to 2018, with a total amount of nearly $80,000.
Harris’ leave payout balance will go towards restitution.
An initial investigation from the City Auditor Lyndon Remias in 2018 found Harris had been fraudulently using the city funds to pay for travel around the world from 2015 to 2018, including Dubai, Panama and Spain, hosted by a private social club called the National Association of Guardsmen.
The stipulation of facts in the case shows Harris spent thousands to dine in the tallest building in Dubai, see the running of the bulls in Spain and attend a guardsman conference dubbed “License to Party” in Orlando.
The audit resulted in the termination of one economic development employee. Afterward, Harris held a meeting in which he warned his employees against making reports to the auditor.
A recording captured Harris telling them “snitches get stitches.”
Harris also used $39,000 in city funds to place ads in sports publications such as the 2017 NCAA Final Four program, the Washington Nationals’ yearbook and the 2018 MLB All-Star Game, the audit revealed. In exchange, he got tickets to the games.
The commonwealth’s attorney’s office, Virginia Beach Police Department and the FBI conducted a joint investigation into the auditor’s findings.
Harris will be sentenced on November 30.