FBI investigates Texas department's finances

By Art Lawler
The Athens Daily Review

ATHENS, Texas — Federal agents converged on the Seven Points Volunteer Fire Department office at City Hall last Friday afternoon after receiving a call about missing financial records.

The FBI had issued two subpoenas — one to the City of Seven Points and one to the fire department — earlier in the week.

The subpoenas called for both entities to produce financial information for the last three years by Aug. 4, for a grand jury investigation.

Fire Chief Joe Dobbs — as custodian of records for the fire department — received one of the subpoenas.

He was elected by the local Firefighter's Association membership over former Fire Chief Michael Earnheart in June.

The other went to City Secretary Debbie Mosley.

Mosley told the Cedar Creek Pilot her department would be providing the FBI with work orders and invoices concerning road materials and anything else needed for roadwork, such as culverts.

She said she was also giving the FBI a profit and loss statement from January of 2007 through June of 2009.

Moseley said all of the city's records would go first to the city's attorney Blake Armstrong, of Tyler.

Armstrong, after viewing all documents and seeing his client's rights are protected, will take the information to the FBI office on Golden Road Street in Tyler.

Moseley said the city should be in compliance with the subpoena by the end of the week.

Things haven't been that simple for the volunteer firefighters.

Dobbs received a call early Friday morning from Assistant Chief Gerald Taylor, informing him some of the records were missing from the chief's office.

After talking to Taylor, Dobbs said he called the FBI to report the missing records.

Agents were in Seven Points by mid-afternoon.

Dobbs said he met with them and told them they could take whatever they needed from the office.

The agents took some papers and the hard drive off a computer.

Dobbs was given a receipt for each item taken and will eventually be able to re-claim them.

The FBI also has a tape of a previous firefighters meeting, in which the members sought and received permission to elect new officers by private ballot.

Taylor was voted out, as was Earnheart — who resigned that same evening.

But Taylor was voted back in when firefighters decided they needed his experience in dealing with financial matters.

The next day, Taylor called an emergency meeting. He said the first meeting was illegal because it violated the Firefighters Association's by-laws.

But the firefighters re-affirmed their intentions of the night before, this time with an open vote of raised hands.

The FBI doesn't comment on cases it is working, but some sources — wishing not to be identified — say the FBI has been investigating the City of Seven Points since the council voted to honor a petition of some members to de-annex the area which had elected Richard "Yankee" Smith.

Smith had opposed other councilmen on numerous occasions and no longer had a seat he was elected to fill by voters after the move.

With the de-annexation, Smith's seat on the council was abolished.

As for the burglary — or possible burglary — Dobbs at first thought the records missing had been stolen from a storage house behind City Hall where SPVFD Captain Bubba Powell's desk and computer are located.

Powell is the only firefighter with a key to the building.

Dobbs said the entrance to the building had been gained by removing a window unit air conditioning system.

He said he entered the building the same way last Monday so he could look for information.

Being the Custodian of Records, it was fine for Dobbs to make such an entry according to concerned parties.

Seven Points Assistant Police Chief Brad McConahay's report stated Taylor contacted him about a possible break-in at the Seven Points Fire Department.

Taylor is reported to have told McConahay that unknown person — or persons — had possibly been in the fire department and had removed files from a filing cabinet located in the office.

Taylor told McConahay two master locks had been cut from the filing cabinet and some of his personal belongings were found on his desk and in a trash can next to the desk.

The officer saw several of Taylor's training certificates located on the floor of the office next to a trash can.

McConahay also observed two master locks laying on top of the filing cabinet.

He was unsuccessful in taking finger prints from the locks or bolt cutters. The case was cleared with the cause listed as criminal mischief.

But when Dobbs arrived in Seven Points for the meeting Monday, he saw no evidence of a break-in.

Meadows said police had also been called to investigate a "possible burglary" in the chief's office Saturday morning by Taylor. Dobbs questioned why the report hadn't been made on Friday at the time the FBI was contacted.

The burglary was believed to have occurred Thursday night.

No one has apparently done any investigating of the storage building by the truck bays.

Dobbs will eventually be approved or discharged of his position by the Payne Springs City Council.

Taylor is the Mayor of Payne Springs, Powell is a council member and another firefighter, Mike Lowe, also serves on the council.

Since the records being investigated are all from the years Earnheart was the Custodian of Records, Dobbs indicated he wants to do his own research without oversight from members of the Earnheart years.

"I was contacted by the Assistant Chief, and he advised me that some financial records of the fire department that were located in our office were now missing," he said.

Dobbs said after talking with police, he realized there was no forced entry, but that some records were missing.

Taylor said Monday night that the only one with a key to the fire chief's office are he and Dobbs.

"They may still be here somewhere, and we just haven't located them yet," Taylor said of the missing records.

Dobbs indicated he had already looked everywhere for the missing documents.

The uanswered question is whether the missing records will reappear as quickly as they vanished, under close scrutiny of the FBI.

Copyright 2009

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