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).