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Kanawha County still waiting on Chesapeake VFD records

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Although the results of a legislative audit of the Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department were released this week, Kanawha County officials are still waiting for financial records of the department to conduct their own audit.

Results of the legislative audit, released Monday, found that Chesapeake fire officials improperly commingled more than $40,000 in state and other funding and ordered the fire department to pay the state back more than $10,000 in improperly spent state money.

But Kanawha County officials have been wrestling with Chesapeake fire officials since December 2011 to conduct their own audit of the department's finances. Dave Fontalbert, chief financial officer for the Kanawha County Commission, said county officials still have not received all the financial information they requested from the fire department.

"We asked for the information, it was refused, and we haven't had any interaction with them for months," Fontalbert said. "I'm sure it will come up again."

Neither Chesapeake Fire Chief P.J. Johnson nor fire department accountant John Empson immediately returned telephone calls on Tuesday. Larry Kopelman, the department's attorney, said he had not spoken to fire officials about the disputed records in several months.

Kanawha County Commissioner Dave Hardy first asked for an audit of the fire department in December 2011, wanting to sort out the legalities of the department's nonprofit and for-profit entities. The Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department runs a multimillion-dollar bingo game as a fundraiser, and also operates a communications business.

Fire officials originally agreed to go along with the county-requested audit, but refused to turn over some financial information. They said other information was in the hands of state auditors.

"There was a lot of information that they refused to give us," said accountant Bill Chambers, who was asked by county officials to conduct the audit.

At a heated meeting with the Kanawha County Commission last summer, Johnson and other fire officials agreed to turn over the rest of the financial information county officials had asked for. But Fontalbert and Chambers said some of the information is still not in county hands. Chambers said the latest dispute was about whether fire officials would send the information to the county or whether county officials would have to come to the fire station to look it up.

Chambers said he is no longer involved in working on the audit, and the audit has been turned over to the county.

Hardy was out of town on Tuesday and unavailable for comment.

Last year, state officials cut off funding to the Chesapeake VFD for refusal to cooperate with a state audit. Kanawha County officials also cut off $20,000 in funding to the organization for failing to provide federal 990 tax forms, but restored the money once the forms were turned in.

Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants said a criminal investigation of the Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department is still underway, but he does not know when or if anything will come out of the investigation.

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.


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