Missing money stymies South Thomaston’s effort to buy firetruck; AG investigating

Posted Aug. 20, 2014, at 8:17 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 20, 2014, at 6:06 p.m.

SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — The effort by the town to buy a new firetruck is at risk because of missing money that municipal officials maintain was last in the hands of the former fire chief.

The Maine attorney general’s office has confirmed through a letter to the town that it has an active investigation into the missing money.

“Please understand, however, that our investigation is to determine if criminal wrongdoing occurred and is not focused on securing payment of the funds in question to the town,” stated the July 21 letter to the town from Brian MacMaster, who is the director of investigations for the Maine attorney general’s office.

Knox County Sheriff Donna Dennison informed South Thomaston’s selectmen in a letter presented Tuesday night that she would not duplicate the efforts of the attorney general’s office in investigating the missing money.

The issue of the missing money was a central topic discussed Tuesday night by selectmen as they acknowledged that the town is $10,000 short of having enough money to purchase the firetruck. Residents voted 81-45 at the March town meeting to spend up to $350,000 for a new pumper truck for the Fire Department,

The purchase was based on using $10,000 raised by the former South Thomaston Firemen’s Association.

That money is not available, officials acknowledged.

In April, South Thomaston Administrative Assistant John Spear contacted the Maine attorney general’s office about the missing money. He said Camden National Bank provided him records that showed that in July 2010, former Fire Chief Wayne A. Brown closed out three bank accounts by the association.

Camden National further told Spear that Brown took the $14,783 check, that consisted of the association money, to TD Bank and either deposited it there or cashed the check. Spear said that TD Bank would not give him information on that transaction.

Brown was a member of the firemen’s association until it disbanded in 2005. He was fire chief until 2006, when he resigned. Five members of that defunct association signed a letter sent in May to the attorney general’s office which said that Brown had no authority to withdraw the money.

Brown previously has told the Bangor Daily News that he does not recall if he withdrew the money.

Brown had argued in letters to the media before the March town meeting against the truck purchase.

At the Tuesday evening selectmen’s meeting, current Fire Chief Bryan Calderwood said that a committee which has gone over two bids received July 30 for a new truck has recommended that the contract be awarded to E-One for $350,000.

Selectmen said that the town does not have the money for the truck purchase.

“We have a big problem, a $10,000 hole,” board member Dorothy Meriwether said.

The board agreed to allow the administrative assistant and fire chief to negotiate with E-One but said that final approval of the purchase would be contingent on filling the $10,000 funding gap.

What happened with the association’s money has been a topic of conversation off and on in town for the past four years. The issue first arose publicly at a July 2010 selectmen’s meeting when officials demanded that the money be turned over to the town by representatives of the association.

The association’s money was raised in a variety of ways, such as controlled field burns and catering meals for local events. The money was used for coffee and doughnuts for firefighters when they fought fires but the overwhelming bulk was set aside for fire equipment.

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