All members of the Todd Volunteer Fire Department were cleared following an investigation into the department’s finances by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, as requested by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners.
“It has been determined that no evidence was found of any alleged criminal activity, alleged criminal intent, or criminal misconduct, as a result of this intense investigation regarding the Todd Volunteer Fire Department, its Board of Directors, Todd VFD command officers, members, and any individual fire fighter(s),” according to a May 30 release by the Watauga County Sheriff’s Office, headed by Sheriff Len Hagaman.
According to the release, the Sheriff’s Office was asked by the Board of Commissioners, through the Watauga County Manager’s office to investigate the VFD’s financial business and accounting practices, following a query from an annual audit performed by Bryce Holder, CPA and PA for Watauga County. The information the county asked the VFD to provide was not provided “in a timely matter.”
In addition, the Board of Commissioners reported they had received a written request from a concerned citizen asking for a formal investigation by law enforcement and county funds be withheld from Todd VFD for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Todd VFD fire chief Chris Welch said there was no surprise they were not found in violation.
“I knew we had not done anything illegal the entire time,” he said. “That’s really the only thing I can say about it.”
The Todd VFD is a 501(c)(3) organization, governed by a Board of Directors. Volunteer Fire Departments are determined to be a private entity under state statutes 132 and 153A. According to the release, “part of the initial investigation included a letter from attorney Jak Reeves that verified this information.”
While Todd VFD falls under those protections, the release said the VFD contacted the WCSO “to voluntarily and fully cooperate with the request; regarding any allegations of criminal misconduct.”
“We knew we didn’t do anything illegal, unless it was something beyond us,” Welch said. “We made the one mistake, we didn’t fill out the IRS return and that was the only thing we were guilty of not doing. I’m glad that the information is fully out there now.”
The WCSO Criminal Investigations Section requested assistance from the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation to help conduct the investigation.
According to the release, “All necessary and requested information and documentation were received, processed and thoroughly reviewed in concert with the Office of Watauga County Manager, the Watauga County Department of Finance and Bryce Holder.”
The WCSO also contacted the North Carolina Department of Revenue and the IRS for their assistance in the investigation. All of the results were then presented to the Office of District Attorney for the 24th Judicial District, which covers Watauga, Avery, Madison, Mitchell and Yancey counties.
“Following the review by all appropriate federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, it is reported that the inquiry and investigation requested by the Watauga County Board of Commissioners has been completed,” according to the release.
Wil Petty can be reached at (336) 846-7164 or on Twitter @WilPetty.