Alabama tourism group backs CEO after fraud plea in Iowa

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) — A taxpayer-funded tourism agency in Alabama is backing its chief executive after pleading guilty to criminal fraud in Iowa, where a music festival he oversaw lost millions.

Visit Dothan, which promotes tourism in the southeastern Alabama town of 71,000, released a statement Thursday after Aaron McCreight appeared in court saying he was upholding an earlier decision to keep him in as chairman and chief executive, WDHN-TV reported.

McCreight could face up to 30 years in prison and a $1 million fine, prosecutors said.

The city pays Visit Dothan 4% of the accommodation tax it receives from the state, and two city commissioners sit on the organization’s board of directors. Mayor Alfred Saliba said Visit Dothan is important to the community and the city will not end funding,

“They’ve done a tremendous job over the last year and a half. We are extremely pleased with what our investment has been with them,” he said.

The Alabama organization hired McCreight months after he was fired from GO Cedar Rapids, where he and another man were accused of defrauding a bank by misrepresenting earnings forecasts to secure loans for Newbo Evolve, a three-day music festival held in August 2018 that included performances by band Maroon 5 and singer Kelly Clarkson.

The festival ultimately lost more than $2 million and the Iowa organization was unable to repay the money when due, the charges allege. McCreight, 47, and a former colleague, Douglas S. Hargrave, 55, of Puyallup, Wash., both pleaded guilty to bank fraud.

Before McCreight pleaded guilty, directors of Visit Dothan said the organization had confidence in his financial management practices and trusted him “based on the work he has done”.

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