Independence, MS -- Some folks thought something was fishy about the finances at the Volunteer Fire Department in the Tate County town of Independence. And when the state auditor looked into it... the Fire Chief ended up taking the heat on embezzlement charges.
In emergencies, people in Indpendence count on help form their local volunteer fire department... but the department couldm't manage to keep up with its bills.
Now, former Fire Chief Chris Criswell has made a plea deal over charges of embezzlement brought by the State of Mississippi.
How much did Criswell get away with? Some people in town here who didn't want to speak publicly sy it could have been as much as 100-thousand dollars. What we DO know is Chriswell agreed to pay more than 40-thousand dollars in restitution. But get this: He never admitted to taking the money.
Still, the court considers it a guilty plea. And the total amount reflects the cost of the invetigation plus interest charges. The missing money came from fundraisers... and from State insurance rebate money.
Attorney Jim Franks says his client just wasn't good at keeping records.
But Criswell also works as a bail bondsman, where numbers do count. He certainly didn't want to talk to us about the charges, and relatives told us to "get lost".
As part of the deal Criswell and relatives have resigned their positions with the Fire Department and will stay off the property except to vote at election time.
And people here say that'll help their community get a fresh start.
In sentencing Judge Ann Lamar had harsh words for Criswell, who will be cleared of a felony charge IF he stays clear of trouble and pays back the money over the next few years.