Panama City, Fla. - A former director of Panama City's Visual Arts Center is at the center of a federal investigation. Charges of fraud against Vicki Dyer Middlemas was filed by federal prosecutors Monday.
"The city is now safe, and we have a very good board," said Mayor Greg Brudnicki.
Brudnicki says the city is in good hands after the city commission took over the VAC building two and half years ago.
In 2015, Panama City Police launched the investigation on Middlemas, after Brudnicki says the city noticed improprieties.
"We feel confident in knowing that we did everything that we could do in a timely manner to fix the situation," said Brudnicki.
Middlemas' indictment says she was forging invoices from a construction company and then using the false invoices to pay herself instead of the company.
She's also accused of spending more than $7,000 on a VAC debit card for a vacation property, and claimed the rental charges were for a paint class, a fundraiser, and a preview party.
Prosecutors also say she concealed the fact that the VAC lost its tax exempt status. They also said she lied on her 2014 tax return.
Brudnicki says that although this was a lengthy process, city residents are closer to closure.
"Having an accounting background, I know that forensic accounting takes a long time and it's something that you go down a rabbit hole and you start looking for things and other things turn up and so it's a long arduous process," said Brudnicki.
News 13 reached out to Middlemas' attorney, but they have not returned the phone call.
The Panama City Center for the Arts is currently where VAC once was, but both are two different entities.
The investigation is ongoing and News 13 will continue to follow the case.
The former director of Panama City's Visual Arts Center is charged with fraud and wire fraud for allegedly stealing money from the city-funded organization.
Federal prosecutors filed the charges Monday against Vicki Middlemas, who was the director of the VAC from 2010 until 2015.
Middlemas was paid a $50,000 salary but, according to the indictment, she stole money from a nearly $90,000 annual stipend paid to the VAC from the City of Panama City. She did this by forging invoices from a local construction company that was working on the VAC, the indictment states.
She also wrote checks to herself on the VAC bank account, falsely writing salary and bonus in the memo line of the checks, prosecutors wrote.
They add that she charged about $7,300 on the VAC debit card to pay for a vacation property for personal use. Middlemas allegedly concealed the vacation charges by "falsely representing" the charges as "paint class," a "paint class fundraiser" and a "preview party."
Prosecutors also wrote that Middlemas "fraudulently concealed" the fact that the VAC's tax exempt status was revoked by the IRS. According to news stories from 2015 Middlemas claimed to the media that the IRS made a mistake when they revoked the tax exempt status.
Finally, prosecutors allege that Middlemas lied about her income on her 2014 tax return. Prosecutors are pursuing criminal forfeiture against Middlemas' assets in this case.
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