The former president of the Manassas Park Volunteer Fire Company pleaded guilty last week to embezzling more than $9,000 in funds from the small agency, and could face up to 20 years in prison for the scam, which lasted several months.

Edith Plaugher, 51, pleaded guilty to one charge of embezzlement in Prince William County Circuit Court, admitting to authorities that she stole money from the fire company's coffers for close to five months. According to prosecutors, she has already paid $9,000 in restitution to Manassas Park and still owes another $800 for cash payments and charges she illegally authorized while at the helm of the department.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney John Notarianni said audits revealed that Plaugher made several withdrawals from the fire company's account to pay for a variety of personal expenses, such as catalogue mail-orders, diet products and Christmas gifts, and to settle a balance with Sears. Notarianni said Plaugher also used the fire company's money to make six auto loan payments to a local bank.

"She obviously needed the money, or wanted the money," Notarianni said, adding that Plaugher also had several checks of various sums issued to her for undisclosed purposes. "She told the state police that it was going on for four or five months, and that she used the money for personal expenses."

Manassas Park officials began to investigate Plaugher in April, when a co-signer of the fire department's checks alerted the city manager to discrepancies in the agency's finances. The acting city manager at the time said Manassas Park officials scrutinized the department's financial statements and discovered a series of questionable checks. Because of Plaugher's position, city officials enlisted the help of the Virginia State Police in conducting the investigation.

The department, which has about six members, is funded solely through proceeds from bingo games, fund-raisers and private donations; no tax revenues were compromised in the incident.

Notarianni said his office has not made a recommendation for sentencing.