Financial Investigation Ongoing in St. Clair Fire District - The Missourian: News

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Financial Investigation Ongoing in St. Clair Fire District

Centering on St. Clair Fire Protection District ‘Irregularities’

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Posted: Wednesday, May 2, 2012 8:00 am | Updated: 10:07 am, Wed Jul 3, 2013.

More than three months after The Missourian first broke the news that the St. Clair Police Department and a pair of federal agencies were investigating some “irregularities in financials” within the St. Clair Fire Protection District, no new information has been released.

In the middle of January, the St. Clair edition of the newspaper reported that public minutes from a St. Clair Fire Protection District emergency board meeting on Sept. 28, 2011, stated that the three-member board that night unanimously voted to “engage the services” of BKD Certified Public Accountants & Advisors “to investigate the financials for the St. Clair Fire Protection District as necessary.”

The vote came after the board went into executive session to “discuss legal matters,” the minutes stated.

Later that evening, the board again voted to go into executive session “to discuss personnel matters.”

When the meeting returned to open session, Berkel read then-Chief Eric Hinson’s letter of resignation, which unanimously was accepted by the board.

In January, St. Clair Police Chief Bill Hammack and St. Clair Fire Protection District Treasurer Dave Berkel both confirmed the investigation to The Missourian, but would provide little additional information. They did say the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were involved.

“We are going through and looking into irregularities in financials of the fire district,” Berkel said in January. “These occurred from 2011 and before. We’re going through some questionable transactions.”

Late last month, Berkel told The Missourian that “the investigation is ongoing.”

“There are interviews being taken at this time by federal investigators,” he said. “We’re waiting on some subpoenaed information and these interviews. We don’t know when we will hear anything more.”

He would not comment further.

In January, neither Berkel nor Hammack would release any names of individuals potentially involved.

Background

When the story broke, Hammack told The Missourian that the fire protection district contacted his department on the same day as the Sept. 28 board meeting.

“We are conducting the joint investigation dealing with the report of funds that are missing from the (fire) department,” Hammack said at the time. “Our investigation is based on the audit findings so far.”

On Jan. 13, 2011, the fire district board of directors announced that Hinson had been named chief of the St. Clair fire department. Before becoming chief, Hinson served as board treasurer from April 1997 to January 2011. After Hinson stepped down in that capacity, Berkel was appointed to the board last January and was named treasurer.

In a story that appeared in the Oct. 5, 2011, St. Clair Missourian, Hinson said that he resigned as chief on Sept. 28 because his plate was too full. A new chief has not been named, but then-assistant chief Mike Kelley now is the interim chief.

The timeline of the 6 p.m. Sept. 28, 2011, St. Clair Fire Protection District board of directors meeting started with a statement made that there was a legal matter to discuss in executive session. About 10 minutes later, the board came out of that executive session and into open session, where the vote was taken to engage the services of BKD CPA & Advisors to investigate the financials for the St. Clair Fire Protection District as necessary.

Just before 6:30 p.m. and after a short recess, the meeting was called back into open session. Hinson arrived for the meeting at that time.

Another motion then was made and approved to return to executive session to discuss personnel matters. Shortly after 7 p.m., the meeting returned to open session. Hinson’s resignation letter was read, and a motion was made and approved to accept the resignation.

The other two members of the fire protection district board are President Kirby Banderman and Secretary Danny Gossett.

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