Shen Farms Fire Company Blasted in County Report

Warren County authorities released a formal report on Monday detailing the county’s forensic investigation into allegations of theft, credit card fraud and witness intimidation at the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department (SFVFD) earlier this year. The report chronicles thousands of dollars in stolen money from the company, altered accounting records, stolen equipment, replacement of a personal vehicle windshield charged to the fire department and a bullet riddled car and house after a former board member of the company attempted to go public with concerns about the department at a public meeting.

The forensic audit report was released by Warren County’s attorney Blair Mitchell on October 17 and includes a series of findings based on a six-month long investigation into activities at the Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department.

SFVFD serves both Clarke and Warren County and is funded, in part, with Clarke County tax money.

Mitchell confirms in the report that neither the Virginia State Police nor Clarke County Commonwealth Attorney Suni Perka have chosen to bring charges against anyone associated with the report findings at this time.

In September, and before the report finding were made public, Perka said in a press release that after reviewing the Warren County report her office had decided not to press charges in the matter.

“After review of this matter, I have concluded, that to avoid the appearance of impropriety and to safeguard their property SFVFD should take appropriate measures to improve its accounting and operational practices, but that no criminal charges would result from this audit,” Perka said in a press release.

Reached by email on Thursday Perka, declined to make any further comment on the matter now that the report has been released to the public.

To view a full copy of Warren County’s report click here: Warren County SFVFD Investigation Final Report

Much of Mitchell’s report is based on a forensic investigation of SFVFD performed by Bill Barrett, a certified public accountant based in Richmond, Virginia. In the report, however, Barrett mentions that his investigation was compromised from the start because members of the SFVFD were notified of his pending investigation three weeks prior to the commencement of Barrett’s work.

“On the morning of May 23rd, I met with the Warren County Administrative Officers to clarify the scope of this forensic audit,” Barrett said in the report. “At this meeting, I was informed that three weeks prior, the Fire Department had been inadvertently informed that a forensic accounting investigation would take place.”

Barrett goes on to say that a forensic accounting investigation is meant to analyze financial records “as they are.” While the report does not specify how SFVFD became aware of the pending investigation, the result of the leaked information became quickly apparent once Barrett began reviewing the fire company’s electronic accounting records.

Barrett said that in 2011 alone he identified more than 110 accounting transactions that had been altered in SFVFD’s accounting program and 15+ more transactions the day after Barrett completed his May 29th onsite investigation.

Barrett’s investigation, which included interviews with the SFVFD Fire Chief Buddy Harlan, Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie, SFVFD’s president, treasurer, secretary, as well as a Clarke County police detective, revealed an extraordinary laundry list of “probable fraudulent transactions” which include:

–          Theft of $2,000 from a safe at SFVFD

–          Missing diving gear valued at $4,800

–          Believed retaliation against a former SFVFD board member whose house and vehicle were “riddled” with gunshots after he voiced concerns of questionable SFVFD practices at a Board of Supervisors meeting

Reached by email on Thursday, a Clarke County detective involved with the investigation confirmed that many members/former members of SFVFD requested anonymity, “because they feared retaliation or had been victims of incidents they believed were retaliatory.” The Clarke County detective also confirmed the incident regarding gunshots fired into the home and vehicle of the former SFVFD board member.

“I did confirm with Warren County regarding an incident at the [family name redacted] and asked them for extra patrols as the [family name redacted] believed the incident stemmed from him talking to me about the SFVFD.”

Clarke County Sheriff Tony Roper said that while his department played a role in the SFVFD investigation, the bulk of the investigation was handled by the Virginia State Police.

“Our investigation was limited to a possible larceny of gasoline and money stolen from a safe,” Roper said on Thursday. “We did not make an arrest in the case because scores of people had access to the fire department’s gasoline and the controls in place were such a mess. Short of a confession it wasn’t possible to make an arrest.”

Barrett’s findings of probable fraudulent activities also describes many instances department funds used for personal gain including questionable credit card activities, gift card purchases as well as a member who drafted a $296 check from the SFVFD checkbook to pay for the replacement of the windshield in her personal automobile.

The report says that although several SFVFD members said that the member was instructed to pay back the misappropriated money and “was reprimanded for her actions” other members said that the board had, in fact, approved the payment.

Barrett’s investigation ultimately found no authorization in the SFVFD board minutes allowing the windshield expenditure.

Barrett also cites other activities that he recommended for additional investigation including questionable accounting practices related to receiving large amounts of cash from Bingo Night proceeds, altered accounting transactions related to missing receipts, manually deleted vendor history records for certain vendors, and questionable audit trail transactions.

For example, Barrett described a SFVFD Banquet Party that generated $105 in revenue from 21 attendees but had a food cost of $1,317.

“Over-purchasing for an event would leave items to be taken by a member for personal use,” Barrett hypothesized in the report.

Barrett concludes the report with nineteen specific recommendations for gaining better control of SFVFD finances and also recommends that both Clarke and Warren County suspend further payments to SFVFD  until “public trust with the Company’s integrity of management and operations are restored.”

At a candidate’s forum held on Thursday night Clarke County Supervisor David Weiss (Buckmarsh) that he was very frustrated that the Commonwealth Attorney’s office had chosen not to take any action in the case.

“I can’t disagree with the decision because she has all of the facts and knows the law better than a farmer does,” Weiss said. “I saw the report and I would have thought you could have done it. It’s very disappointing that we can’t get more action on it because of the money that is gone and the public trust that has been broken.”

Asked if Clarke County will continue to provide funding to Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department Weiss said that the County is working out a system by which any money provided for the fire department will be given to a third party rather than directly to SFVFD.

According to the Clarke County Joint Administrative Services department, Clarke County funded Shenandoah Farms Volunteer Fire Department $50K in 2009, $50K in 2010, $38K in 2011 and has not provided any funding so far in fiscal year 2012 ( Clarke County’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30).

Comments

  1. If it looks like trash and smells like trash, chances are its probably trash! And all these pro-SFVFD people on here acting like nothing was wrong just proves your ignorance! And No, I do not wanna join, so don’t hit me with that line either……

  2. A Neighbor says:

    By reading this article one would think that Clarke County is full of ignorant farmers. By reading this article one would think that officials and persons of responsibility are aware of and condone illegal activitiy. By reading this article one would think that the legal system in place to check and balance employees, volunteers and citizens from stealing and misappropriating funds is either incompetant or scared. Perhaps the Clarke County Commonwealth Attorney, Suni Perka, was afraid that her home and car would be “riddled” with gunfire as well.
    Disturbing? Infuriating? Ridiculous? Insane? ABSOLUTELY
    What kind of a place do we live? How is it that this all happened in May and we are just now finding out about it in October? By sweeping it under the rug, making no arrrests, by not terminating anyone’s employment and simply suggesting alternative accounting methods isn’t this activity being condoned? Isn’t that a message to those that have abused the system and taken what doesn’t belong to them that they can get away with anything?
    It’s time that a real message is sent: Clarke County is not a bunch of ignorant farmers and we will not tolerate anyone stealing our hard-earned money. Time for everyone to take their head out of the sand and take a stand … they can’t shoot everyone’s home and car.
    Get rid of the trash.

  3. You're FIRED says:

    This is insane!

    Why was this part left out in all the other articles?
    “”Believed retaliation against a former SFVFD board member whose house and vehicle were “riddled” with gunshots after he voiced concerns of questionable SFVFD practices at a Board of Supervisors meeting.””

    “”a Clarke County detective involved with the investigation confirmed that many members/former members of SFVFD requested anonymity, “because they feared retaliation or had been victims of incidents they believed were retaliatory.” The Clarke County detective also confirmed the incident regarding gunshots fired into the home and vehicle of the former SFVFD board member.””

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! This is how we find out!! I’m shocked, floored and FURIOUS!

    So, nobody is arrested, fired or thrown off the SFVFD? Am I missing something?
    How many crooks are still involved with the FD? We will never know!

    “”as well as a member who drafted a $296 check from the SFVFD checkbook to pay for the replacement of the windshield in her personal automobile.””
    She was CAUGHT. How did they get away with this?

    Who do we trust? I never hear a clear answer to anything! We find things out weeks or months later.

    To David Weiss, you know something isn’t right, PUSH THIS ISSUE, arrests need to be made..

    To the SFVFD SPEAK UP IF YOUR INNOCENT the residents of CC have your backs! Do the right thing, turn the thieves in!

    CDN Editor: CDN was not made aware of allegations of gunshots or witness intimidation until this report was published earlier this week. Had we known, the information would have been shared.

    • Lonnie Bishop says:

      ‘Twould seem that them boys and girls over there at SFVFD have a LOT of explainin to do. But, it’s not in Weiss’ jurisdiction; I believe it’s good ol’ Dunning who represents that. He can’t be troubled to attend more than half of the public meetings of the boards he serves on; why’s he goin to be bothered by the goings-on out Howellsville Road? Not sure why the good Commonwealth’s Attorney didn’t file any charges, yet…Weiss was correct in his statement about that, except for his rather silly “I’m just a farmer” schtick.

      Long and short of it is that the fire hall is in Clarke, so charges most likely gotta come from Clarke. Don’t know what Warren’s options are, other than the withholding of funds. Would be interested to know what “3rd party” is gettin the Clarke funds to then pass along to SFVFD.

      • Mr. Bishop, you are correct about Mr. Dunning, I have lived in Shenandoah Farms for 24 years and I
        have never to my knowledge seen Mr. Dunning or any other county official in all that time. I could say
        the same thing about Mr. Ash but I hope to be meeting him in the near future.

        Warren county is currently paying SFVFD bills out of FY 2011-2012 funds that are rapidly drying up as the $25,000 auditors bill was paid out of these funds. Clarke county is currently withholding the fourth quarter payment for FY 2010-2011 and have not disbursed any funds for FY 2011-2012. I understand that Clarke county was to have funneled their funding through Warren county.

        Please know that the auditors report is not as bleak as it would appear if you know all of the facts and circumstances. True, there are several points in the report that jump out at you. Understand that these instances have not reached their final conclusion.

    • Let’ get a few facts straight before we go any farther. The auditor’s report is not chiseled in stone. It contains inaccuracies, contradictions and many points of contention. Contrary to the auditor”s report he did not interview the president of the fire dept. I defy the auditor to produce notes from his interview with Mr. Hoover. One of his charges is that someone he interviewed misrepresented themselves to him, maybe this is the case. At one point the auditor says the fire dept. had too many bank cards in use and then later chastises them when they go to a single card with too many users. The auditor apparently doesn’t understand the term “Awards Banquet”. The banquet in question is the annual banquet for the fire dept. members. The money cited as income was admission charged to community members who came to a dance after the banquet.

      After reading the audit report you would think that everyone at the dept. was engaged in wholesale theft and fraud. That is certainly not the case. True, there are several incidents that stand out but those have yet to come to final conclusion. The dept has made many steps to move in a new direction in fiscal accountability. Don’t count us out yet, we’re still here responding to any emergency.

    • [redacted] It seems that the shots were fired from a BB gun!!!!! All of the articles on this would lead you to believe that high-powered weapons were used. “Riddled”, give me a break. Kudos to Mr. Beck for finally getting this information out. This changes the speculation surrounding this incident. It could just as easily have been a neighborhood kid with a grudge or your usual adolescent miscreant. It takes a huge leap to go from a BB gun to citizens who need “protection” for speaking out. I believe the Clarke county deputy who spoke to the auditor should have checked her facts a little closer.

      • ” Kudos to Mr. Beck for finally getting this information out.” This changes nothing its hearsay!
        Who is Mr. Beck anyway? Way to go Mr. Wagon.

        I did do some searching and found one article and it called it BUCKSHOT!
        Buckshot makes more sense. A sling shot or a BB gun would take a good amount of time to riddled anything.

        I also didn’t attack anyone or give up names. I simply asked some questions that no one answered.

        • Lonnie Bishop says:

          Exactly. The buckshot I shoot when I go hunting is made of little metal spheres about the size of…you guessed it…BBs.

          • resident of SF says:

            [redacted] it might have been a sling shot with marbles, and the very next article was about kids who have shot close to 40 houses and cars with sling shots and marbles…think about it!

          • Mr. Bishop, I know we”re getting picky here but normally when people speak of buckshot they are talking about 00 or 000 buckshot which are much larger than BBs. If someone had used a shotgun with “buckshot” the damage would have been more than “dings and scratches”.

          • BBs? Who care about BBs? Lets get back to the real problems. Professional management of SFVFD & people being accountable for their actions.

          • “…Professional management of SFVFD & people being accountable for their actions…”

            Right on, Bob! People need to know that their hard earned tax dollars are not being mis-used.

        • CSI VA, I put the source of my information in my comments but it was redacted. Mr. Beck is a reporter for one of the Warren county daily papers. His information was obtained from a report from the Warren county”s sheriffs office. The report said is was most likely a BB gun. The damage to the cars was “dings and scratches”. The auditor was the one who thought it was “buckshot”. I don”t think anyone could expect to intimidate with a BB gun.

  4. Clarke Life says:

    Where are all those SFVFD people at now? A couple months ago they were on here blasting the community for not getting any support and such! Well my question is, WHERE YOU AT NOW????? You belong in jail!

  5. SFVFD Member says:

    The SFVFD supporters are still here, running YOUR emergencies. As as far as the WHOLE department belongs in jail, well when you call 9-1-1, dont you want people to come help you??? As far as I know, past members of SFVFD have been released permenantly from the department. The gunshots riddled?? really?? there is NO EVIDENCE that anyone form SFVFD did that… Did you ever think that (Family name redacted) had other enemies?? That family is not an enemy of SFVFD, we are glad that we have an oppertunity to fix things and make it right, we owe it to the community as well as ourselves. SFVFD is in a whirlwind of changes, and we are working and going through everything, taking one step at a time to better SFVFD for the community. SFVFD is not full of crooks or thieves, They are very nice people..Most of the members of SFVFD were also floored and astonished, So for me, as well as the other members of SFVFD will continue to run your emergencies, because that is what we choose to do, and for the administrative side, they are working night and day with a fine tooth comb going through EVERYTHING, appropriate measures will be taken for those who lost the trust of the community. We apolagize for letting everything get this far, and one day we will prove to you all that we can do this, and we WILL do this.

    Community is our pride and Pride is our pay, that is why we still volunteer.

  6. Naked Truth says:

    Start at the top. Get rid of the chief. How can he not be aware of the missing equipment? Sounds fishy to me. Sounds like a “good-ole-boy” network to me and everyone else.

  7. I love how everyone is biased to one side and cant wait for the next newspaper arcticle to come out so they can read how the local fire station is a flop! The fact of the matter is that all of these people you speak of are just like the rest of you! Last time i checked only god was entitled to judge people!
    what the public doesnt know is that this previous member who caused this whole mess and had his house shot up by a bb gun (probably his son and his delinqent friends) was barred from the station for fist fighting with an officer. he was an opinionated troublemaker that the station and any other station is better off without! why follow the crowd of neysayers when you can make decisions for yourself .SFVFD was found not guilty of all charges and all the print in the newspaper were inicators that fraud was possible and not that it actually happened. Truth is that at the end of the day when all of you are mad at SFVFD and forming your own opinions we will still be running your emergency without bias and anger simply to save your life and protect and serve! We are out to get no one and never will! Retribution is not in our hearts but making it right with all of you will be there forever! as for the naked truth lets not talk about things we know nothing about!!

    • A Neighbor says:

      I don’t believe that anyone said that the local fire department was a “flop”. I believe that the focal point is that things (scuba equipment, gas, food, money, etc) have been taken without authorization or permission. That is commonly referred to as theft. Routinely our legal system sits in judgement of these offenses and doles out punishment up to an including incarceration.
      Stating that “these people that you speak of are just like the rest of you” is suspect. I do not take things that don’t belong to me. How, exactly are those that are stealing just like me?
      As far as running our emergencies. Emergency calls are run throughout the community for the benfit and safety of the entire community. I am sorry to see that you carry such a division between SFVFD and the community. I would think that an “us vs. them” mentality should be checked at the door or left behind in grade school.
      I, for one, am grateful for the service provided to the community by SFVFD even though I have never had occasion to need those services. I am grateful because I know the positive impact it holds for my entire community. Not for us or them.
      I will not, however, stand by silently or look the other way when a group of volunteers that is supposed to a trusted and integral part of the community is stealing. There is a huge difference between being “found not guilty of all charges” and not having sufficient evidence to prosecute a specific individual.

  8. I read the full report and I came to one conclusion and I will keep it to myself for now. One word describes it all!

    BTW this is just not about all the debit bank cards this nonsense goes way beyond just that!

    In some incidents they used the FD like it was their own personal business and this includes family members profiting as contractors. I’d like the chance to be the highest bidder, still get the contract and not have to pay taxes on top of it all (no 1099 issued)!

    How many of the would-be thieves were thrown off the Dept.?
    If these people are gone how and when were they replaced? I ask this question only because of comments made that they were low on volunteers before all this BS.

    As for the witness intimidation “it happened” this wasn’t over another incident or hate, come on come up with something better than that.
    I’d like to know how many requested anonymity? AND why? Seems suspect to me! Perhaps they honestly feared for their lives.

    Now, with that said: nobody in their right mind would volunteer and further put their lifes on the line without even going on an emergency call. How could you all prove it’s safe to be a member?

    To the 3 people defending the SFVFD, Did you read the full report? It doesn’t seem like it to me by what your comments stated! Please read it in full. Read it for what it is and not what you want it to be..

    Hey good ole boy if there was a fight, there should be a police report on file. I’d like to see police reports on the stolen equipment too. As for judging maybe you should read what you said.

    ” The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it…- Albert Einstein “

  9. resident of SF says:

    Really everyone???? If you have read the other reports in other newspapers you would know that the house was shot with possibly marbles and sling shots, then the nest report said there was a report of kids shooting houses with sling shots and marbles…..hmmmm sounds as if name [redacted] got hit by the kids who hit everyone else house. Also, how many of you that are saying the members of SFVFD belong in jail have actually met any of the members? I know a few personally from going to their fundraisers and Id have to say they do not seem the type to steal from anyone, or shoot peoples houses. In fact I have noticed some changes in the membership, for instance some people that were members 4 months ago are not there anymore and wen asked where they have been i got the answer that the fire department had to do what was best for them, also i noticed cameras up everywhere now. Maybe before everyone judges these people who put their life’s on the line for us, they should maybe go to one of their events and meet some of the members, talk to them, ask them questions, and then only then pass judgment. Yes they have had some problems lately, no denying that, but you can tell they are working hard to make things better. Also if you ever read any newspapers, other then just now, there are other fire departments that have similar problems (including ones with paid people) and no one is attacking them the way you guys are attacking these members. I am a full supporter of SFVFD. Me and my wife go to every fundraiser they have and trust every single one of their members. When you walk in the door the members treat you like you belong there and they all act like a family. I have been to other organizations where me and or my wife did not feel comfortable at all and going to SFVFD is something we look forward to every week.
    As for the members, keep up the good work. You guys are doing a great job just keep your heads up, stick together, and doing what you do best and this will pass.

  10. Threats & intimidation continue to happen even at company 1 on Oct. 8, 2011. Someone who has spoke out in favor of SFVFD being investigated, was verbally and almost physically attacked by [redacted] who continues to brag through the community about his actions. This type of behavior should not have been tolerated by the county and the many bystanders that watched and did nothing. I have not heard of any disciplinary action taken against [redacted] and feel that the intimidation and threats will continue dispite all of the reports that clearly show problems in the administration of SFVFD.

    Yes, I said administration not operations. It is operational side of SFVFD that continues to provide the community with Fire & EMS services. It is the administrative side of SFVFD that has needed help for years and obviously continues to need more professional oversite in the management of tax payers money. Lets not get the two sides of the dept. confused.

    I am also tired of hearing that all of the problem people are gone and the new board hasn’t been given a chance to fix things. According to what I have been told the current president and chief have been in thier positions since Dec. 2009. Seems to me that the problems listed in the audit really span the whole time you have been there. Thefts at the end of 2010 and a party at the beach with pictures on facebook showing our tax payers dollars at work. Who had to be drove back in a cart because they got drunk on the gift cards bought by SFVFD. Gift cards? Boy, what a great way to hide expenses. Did they bring receipts back or these missing too?

    • Hey Man ! I was in the fire house when all that went down, Can’t say I like the guy much, but man
      to see another companys head man act like that was one fun sight. Just have a hard time thinking
      nobody stop it or gets in trouble . Hey think if we go to another company and do that would we get
      in trouble ………………………. But I guess with all the other stuff going on over there , and him being
      here . where only lucky it stop there

  11. By the way who are you investigating internally ? Yourselves ? Give me a break !

    • resident of SF says:

      Everyone is attacking the chief and the president and the treasurer but if i am not mistaken is there not a vice president too who from what i can see by coming to the events plays a big role in things too. Everyone should give them a break by doing what everyone is doing is probably just making matters worst i know personally if i was in thier shoes i would not want to get out of bed all hours of the night, miss dinner, leave my family, and risk my life for a community full of people that are treating me like this. Although you said there is a difference from the administrative side and the operation side wich im guessing means the firefighters and emts, constantly having thier fire department attacked im sure effects more then just the administrative side. Lets think logically. And let me ask you something how do you know so much of what goes on there? If it is a friend whos telling you things who is a member at sfvfd this is what you do your friends?? or if you are a member this is how you treat your fellow members? i just do not understand!

  12. resident of SF, I do believe that I am thinking logically. The administration part of SFVFD is a mess. And you ask How do I know this? Well, lets see.

    The audit has been posted online. Have you read it?
    The 10/10/11 memo from the CPA firm is also online. Have you read it?
    Neither county has released any funds to SFVFD and Warren County has been reviewing & paying bills for SFVFD. This & other info has been in the papers. Have you read them?
    If there wasn’t problems do you really think that an audit would have been done? Spend all of that money on rumors that have no proof? Just because one person spoke out? Lets think logically. I don’t think this would make sense at all.
    I am personally not on facebook but when members freely post information and tell on themselves & each other they should realize that others see & read. Sometimes people who are on facebook share with others who aren’t. It’s not just your friends who see what you post. It’s not that private.

    Now to clear up one final thing:
    If you read my previous post you will notice that I did not attack anyone including the fire fighters and EMTs. I believe that I did make a distinction between operations and administration in my previous post. I would not and did not speak bad of any of the brave men & women who do risk their lives for the community. I have the utmost respect for those who miss dinners, get up at all hours of the night & leave their families. Volunteer & Career! Thanks to all of you!