Alleged Theft by Ex-Chief Likely Led to Closure of Pacific Junction, IA, Fire and Rescue

May 30, 2024
Ernie Gencarelli also was the president, secretary and treasurer of a charity that funded the department's equipment and training.

Without funds, a small Iowa volunteer fire department had to cease operations as it could no longer protect their community.

It now appears, the former fire chief may have had a hand in the fate of the Pacific Junction Fire Rescue Company.

Ex-chief Ernie Gencarelli, 67, was arrested Wednesday on charges of first-degree theft, money laundering and ongoing criminal conduct, KETV reported.

Gencarelli served as fire chief for five years before stepping down in May 2023.

When Steven Bogert took over, he noticed something was amiss. 

"He had noticed some charges at local restaurants and things that didn't seem appropriate. That started my investigation for the last five months," Mills County Deputy Jeremy Ripperger said. 

His probe determined all of the charges stemming from the Pacific Junction First Responders Association charity fund.

Gencarelli served as the president, secretary and treasurer of the fund meant to pay the fire department's equipment and training. The community donated to help. 

"Cash withdrawals, personal purchases, loan payments, even things such as a chest freezer and diapers, things that are obviously not used for the fire department funds," Ripperger said at a press conference, adding that more than $40,000 was involved. 

Mills County Attorney, DeShawne Bird-Sell said there could be a direct correlation between the theft and the fire department shutting down its operation. 

"They were unable to get answers with what was happening with their funding from any source, and so with that and no money, they were unable to continue," Bird-Sell said.

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