By William R. Toler
Richmond County Daily Journal
HAMLET, N.C. —A former fire chief is accused of embezzling more than $20,000 following a nearly 20-month investigation by the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation.
The SBI's Financial Crimes Unit on Monday arrested David Allen Knight, 54, of Whistle Road, and charged him with two counts of embezzlement—one for $16,734.97 and one for $4,338.42—from Hamlet Rescue and Medical Services, Inc., according to a statement.
Knight announced his retirement in October of 2015 after 35 years of public service. He first joined Hamlet Fire Department after graduating high school in 1981 and became chief in 1987.
An incident report was filed with the Hamlet Police Department on March 9, 2016 after the rescue squad looked into the finances and "there were some discrepancies there," current Fire Chief Calvin White said Monday. He added there were a wide range of purchases that "didn't make any sense to us" and they felt the matter needed further investigation.
The purchases in question were made between April 21, 2014 and Jan. 28, 2016.
"It was very unexpected," White said. "I've known him a very long time."
While the fire department is operated by the city of Hamlet, the rescue squad is not—although the fire chief is traditionally head of both. The rescue squad is a nonprofit organization that pays the city to operate out of the fire department.
Hamlet police requested assistance from the SBI and recorded interviews on March 10 and 11. Those recordings were turned over to Special Agent Andrew Pappis, who took over the investigation.
White said there was "a lot of paperwork to look at."
Chief Scott Waters said the SBI was contacted after consulting with District Attorney Reece Saunders to avoid any conflict of interest because of the "close working relationship" between the police department and fire and rescue.
"It's been very upsetting that this has occurred, that we had to look into it," Waters said. "But at the end of the day, we've go to do what's right."
Although he wasn't around during the time of the alleged embezzlement, City Manager Jonathan Blanton issued the following statement:
"The City of Hamlet is disappointed in the circumstances…surrounding former Fire Chief David Knight and his alleged involvement with the mishandling of funds from Hamlet Rescue and Emergency Medical Services…there are no allegations that any city funds were mishandled by Mr. Knight during his tenure as fire chief, nor is the city a part of this legal action.
"Although the city is disheartened at the possibility of past financial mismanagement, the city is confident that necessary changes and safeguards have been put into place that will allow for a mutually (beneficial) relationship to continue between the city and Hamlet Rescue and Emergency Medical Services as we strive to deliver the best possible services and protections to our citizens."
Knight was booked into the Richmond County Jail under a $25,000 secured bond but made bail before 5 p.m., according to jail records. He is scheduled to appear in court Nov. 30.
The district attorney's office is handling the prosecution in conjunction with Financial Crimes resources prosecutors, according to the SBI.
All defendants facing criminal charges are presumed innocent until proven guility in a court of law.
Copyright 2017 Richmond County Daily Journal
McClatchy-Tribune News Service