"…. opportunities for misappropriation to occur without detection"
THIS PAST DECEMBER THE LINN-SAN MANUEL VFD firehouse in Hidalgo County, Texas, burned down while the members were at a neighboring station attending a Christmas party. Firegeezer posted a VIDEO REPORT HERE on December 12 telling about the destructive blaze that destroyed not only the firehouse, but the VFD's only pumper and most of their equipment.
The only vehicles that were not damaged were their tanker and two brush trucks that they had taken with them to the other station.
After investigating the blaze, the Sheriff reported that his investigators believe the fire was intentionally set to hide evidence that money was misspent or missing, but no suspect was determined. In March, following a tip, the Hidalgo County Commissioners requested an audit of the VFD's financial practices and on September 6 the county auditor's office issued a report on its findings.
The Monitor newspaper published a review of the report that says in part:
Poor recordkeeping fostered opportunities to steal money paid to rural northern Hidalgo County's primary fire department, county auditors say.
The scathing review of the fire department’s reimbursements for providing fire protection and emergency services revealed that more than $330,000 in county-funded expenses often lacked supporting documentation. The funds in question include $79,000 earmarked for travel purposes to conferences and emergency calls and another $40,000 where auditors could not even determine the purpose of the transaction.
The five-month examination by the Hidalgo County Auditor’s Office also found the fire department lacked evidence that some of the emergency calls it was reimbursed for responding to even occurred.
Concerns about the volunteers’ financial management had already led Hidalgo County Precinct 4’s emergency services district to cease funding that pays for the fire department to respond to emergency calls in the northern Hidalgo County community. But the Hidalgo County auditor’s office recommended to commissioners in the Sept. 6 report that they terminate the county’s own funding agreement until the department addresses "significant weakness in the management of its finances."
Prior to the release of the auditor's report, the county had already suspended all taxpayer funding of the department temporarily until the details were released and the department responded. With regard to the arson charges, Sheriff Lupe Trevino told The Monitor:
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño said his office’s "working theory" is that the fire was started to eliminate evidence of financial misconduct. While some paperwork was lost in the fire, Treviño said the audit’s findings are among the evidence his investigators have independently uncovered.
"One of the easiest cases to investigate is financial fraud because once you put it in writing, someone will always have a record of it," he said. "It’s just a matter of finding that database."
Read the entire, detailed report in The Monitor HERE.
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Also on FireGeezer…
- Suspended VFD Boots Chief, Goes Back Into Operation – January 15, 2013
- Texas Firehouse Burns Down – December 12, 2011