Federal prosecutors say the former fire chief of the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department will plead guilty to embezzling $225,000 from the town of Mint Hill and its fire department.
The Justice Department says Jeremy Russell created a fake company called Regional Medic & First Responder Supply Connection. He then invoiced the fire department for services and equipment that the fire department never received.
The Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department's board chairman Jerry Mullis says everyone was surprised when investigators showed up at their doorstep in June, a month after Russell resigned as fire chief.
"I haven't had not one individual from our officers staff, our membership staff, say that they suspected that he was doing what he was accused of doing," Mullis says.
The invoices were generally under $5,000 and he even created a fake mailbox for the company. The fraud occurred from May 2010 to April 2012. The Justice Department says he embezzled money to help fund a gambling habit.
The Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department says it has changed its procedures for purchasing "with at least four checks on anything that is ordered" according to Mullis. And town manager Brian Welch says the town of Mint Hill will determine if it can do a better job with audits. But Welch says you can't always catch every bad guy.
"Ultimately department heads are trusted with running their departments," Welch says. "And sometimes issues like this are going to occur. You just hope to catch them and deal with them accordingly."
Russell faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for embezzling public funds. He also agreed to pay restitution. He joined the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department in 1994 and was promoted to fire chief in 2007.