RONCEVERTE -- A Greenbrier County judge Wednesday ordered locks be placed on the doors of the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department and also ordered town officials to take possession of all the fire department's property and financial accounts due to members "illegally expending funds ... for their own personal gain."
Circuit Judge James J. Rowe also ordered town officials to immediately dissolve the 86-year-old quasi-public and private entity that previously had been chartered to protect the 1,557 or so citizens of Ronceverte from fire and other emergencies.
City administrator Blaine Oborn filed legal documents a day earlier indicating State Police Trooper W.A. Pendleton "had discovered evidence of possible illegal withdrawals of (public) funds for personal and other non-fire department-related expenditures by officers, board members and members of the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department" sometime prior to Nov. 10, 2008.
The town's complaint for an injunctive relief and motion for a temporary restraining order, filed by the Lewisburg law firm of Ambler & Dotson, states Oborn had asked Ronceverte Fire Chief Jody Campbell and assistant chief Darrel Miller last year to provide financial and bank account information to the town.
Oborn claims Campbell and Miller had at least one secret bank account that was "deliberately concealed" in an "effort to prevent the town of Ronceverte from reviewing all of the bank accounts."
"The additional bank account of the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department shows a pattern of behavior whereby checks were made to, cashed by members and certain relatives of members," the complaint stated. "Checks were made out to and cashed by vendors for non-fire department-related expenditures."
The complaint also stated "additional bank financing" was being sought by the fire department "which would it give access to abuse and misappropriate additional monies."
Mayor Gail White referred questions about the civil complaint to Oborn, who did not return messages left on his cell phone Wednesday.
Among other legal documents found at the Greenbrier County circuit clerk's office was an affidavit by Pendleton indicating how evidence was gathered during his investigation of alleged wrongdoing by the fire department.
"I have received credible information from a federal investigative agency which allowed me to obtain a subpoena for a particular bank account managed by the Ronceverte Fire Department," the affidavit said. "It appears from the statements provided by the bank that members of the (fire department) are diverting public funds for personal use in violation of state and federal laws."
None of the legal documents filed Tuesday or Wednesday against the fire department specifically stated how much money had been allegedly misused.
Pendleton's affidavit also said checks had possibly been used to "pay for personal credit cards" and asked the town to seek a temporary injunction to freeze all of the bank accounts of the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department "as I believe these accounts will be illegally depleted pending my investigation."
Pendleton also requested that state auditors review the fire department's financial records. On Wednesday, Pendleton told The Register-Herald that the investigation "was ongoing" and plans had been made to ensure the town would have adequate fire protection during the restraining order.
"It has been established that the city of Lewisburg and Fairlea fire departments will cover the Ronceverte area in case of any fires," Pendleton said.
According to the secretary of state's office, the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department is a nonprofit organization first organized in 1923. Under its listing for officers are president and secretary Kevin Brammer; vice president Bill Rose; and two directors, Campbell and Miller.
On Wednesday, Rowe ordered the town of Ronceverte to take possession of the fire department and all of its funds as well as these measures:
- Change the locks on the firehouse and any other property of the fire department.
Although specific individuals were not named, Rowe also ordered the Ronceverte Volunteer Fire Department Inc. to appear in court Feb. 17 to "give any legal reason" and to "show cause" why town officials should not take over the department.
Campbell could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Republished with permission of The Register-Herald.