FBI arrests Texas fire chief on allegations of stealing from pension fund
The FBI searched a Denton County station in Argyle on Thursday looking for evidence against recently retired Fire Chief Troy Mac Hohenberger
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
DENTON COUNTY, Texas — The Denton County Emergency Services District 1 fire chief was arrested Thursday by the FBI on charges related to allegations that he stole money from the department’s pension fund, KXAS-TV and Star-Telegram media partner WFAA reported Thursday.
The FBI confirmed the arrest to the Star-Telegram, but a spokesperson said the FBI cannot comment on the nature of the charges until he makes his initial appearance in court on Monday, at which point court records will be unsealed.
Troy Mac Hohenberger, the fire chief and an employee of the district for nearly 30 years, was expected to be met at DFW Airport by FBI agents when his flight from Las Vegas landed, WFAA reported. Hohenberger is accused by the FBI of stealing from the ESD1 401(k) plan that was supposed to have $3.4 million in it.
A lawsuit filed by a former employee also alleges Hohenberger mismanaged funds meant for the 401(k) plan and retaliated against the former employee when he tried to get information on how finances were being managed.
Hohenberger was a volunteer firefighter with the department from 1990-1995, according to court documents filed in response to the lawsuit against him and the ESD1. In 1997, Hohenberger was a part-time employee until his promotion to chief in 2000.
According to a job posting in which the emergency services district is looking for a new fire chief, Hohenberger had already retired prior to his arrest.
The FBI was searching the department’s station in Argyle on Thursday looking for evidence against Hohenberger, WFAA reported. The district is not under the control of the city, but Argyle Mayor Bryan Livingston told WFAA he was “shocked and dismayed something like this is going on in Argyle.”
No emergency services will be affected because of Hohenberger’s arrest or the investigation, according to a release from the ESD1.
Hohenberger was the administrator of the department’s 401(k) plan since 2010, according to court documents. Problems arose when employees went several days without a check after payday, according to the lawsuit filed against the Emergency Services District 1 and Hohenberger by former engineer Harold Ring.
“As the 401K’s administrator and as AVFD’s sole financial manager, Hohenberger removed funds from each employees’ paycheck for the purposes of putting the funds in the individual employee’s 401K account,” Ring alleged in the suit. “However, Hohenberger failed to maintain a habit and practice of properly and timely moving these funds to the employees’ individual accounts or timely providing AVFD’s matching funds.”
As of 4 p.m. Thursday, Hohenberger was still listed as the department’s chief on Denton County’s website. The website for the Denton County Emergency Services District 1 also listed him as the chief, though the Cross Timbers Gazette reported in February he planned on retiring on June 1.
The Denton County Emergency Services District 1 was formed in 2020, when the Argyle Volunteer Fire Department, a non-governmental, non-profit organization, and similar agencies from nearby cities merged into one entity.
The ESD1 said in the news release that it “remains dedicated to ensuring transparency to personnel and the community during this process” and that it will cooperate with the FBI investigation, but that it couldn’t release any more information Thursday night because the investigation was ongoing.
Allegations in the lawsuit
Ring alleges in the lawsuit that he asked Hohenberger questions about the 401(k) plan management in April 2019 after reviewing a statement about the plan from Fidelity, an investment firm that handles retirement plans as a part of its offerings. In response to Ring’s questions, Hohenberger yelled at Ring and profanely told him the management of the department’s finances were none of his business, according to the suit.
Because of the meeting, “Ring’s career was doomed,” the lawsuit reads. Ring, who had been working to fill gaps he believed the department had in the way it trained new firefighters, had support from Hohenberger in his efforts to help out new employees until the meeting. According to the lawsuit, that support disappeared after he asked questions.
“Ring was a victim of multiple injustices that ultimately led to him losing the job he loved through no fault of his own,” the lawsuit says, including false accusations of drug use, harassment for the use of prescribed drugs to manage ADHD and an accusation of shoplifting, which the lawsuit says was false, to justify giving Ring the option of resigning or being fired. Ring was an employee from 2017 to 2020.
Ring also makes a bid to have the lawsuit become a class-action suit in which anyone who is or was a beneficiary of the Argyle Volunteer Fire Department’s 401(k) pension would be eligible for recovery of damages.
In the lawsuit, Ring alleges that a breach of fiduciary duty by Hohenberger and the ESD1 has caused damages to all current and past beneficiaries of the 401(k) plan.
Payments to the firefighters were also delayed on multiple occasions when Hohenberger, the sole administrator over the departments’ finances, was out of town, according to the lawsuit. The department did not have a professional bookkeeper and whenever Hohenberger would travel, Ring alleged payments would be missed. Sometimes, payments made to firefighters were the wrong amount. In some cases, payments would not come until “several days after Hohenberger returned to town.”
Hohenberger would also fail to move money taken out of employee paychecks for the 401(k) plan into the fund like he was supposed to, Ring says in the lawsuit.
Hohenberger and the ESD1 denied all those allegations in their joint answer to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit seeks relief for damages including back pay, equitable front pay, attorney’s fees and court costs, but does not list a specific number.
The court is expected to make a ruling on the motion to certify the lawsuit as class action on Dec. 8.