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Former elementary school counselor pleads guilty to wire fraud and arson

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- A former Chadbourn Elementary School counselor pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to wire fraud and arson. He still faces first-degree murder charges.

Michael Brown is accused of murdering Larry Townes in 2010. Brown told detectives Townes startled him because he came in Brown's Christian Counseling Center near Tabor City after hours and tried to rob him.

The US Attorney's Office says Brown, who was a licensed professional counselor working at Chadbourn Elementary School, had a separate counseling business that claimed to provide "free" teacher-supervised tutoring services, snacks, transportation services, and youth activities and games to lower income individuals. As part of the process for registering each new participant at that business, Brown required his employees to obtain a copy of the participant's Medicaid card. After the initial meeting during which the Medicaid participants gave over their Medicaid card, however, some participants had no further contact with Brown. Prosecutors, though, say Brown routinely billed Medicaid as though he had performed "individual psychotherapy" or "group" behavioral health counseling and therapy sessions on the children for as long as two hours on a single day.

The maximum penalty for wire fraud is up to 20 years imprisonment. For the arson charge, the maximum penalty is no fewer than 10 years consecutive to any other term of imprisonment imposed.

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