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Former Pa. fire chief arrested for alleged embezzling

Chief Gary Dennis reportedly wrote checks to himself and pocketed fundraiser money

By Ryan Brown
Altoona Mirror

ROARING SPRING, Pa. — A former Roaring Spring volunteer fire chief and Blair County emergency management director allegedly embezzled more than $15,000 from his fire company over three years, even using company funds to attend a NASCAR race in Kentucky, state police at Hollidaysburg said.

Gary Dennis, 57, allegedly wrote checks to himself and pocketed fundraiser money while heading the Friendship Fire Company, a volunteer department serving Roaring Spring and the surrounding area.

At one point, police said, Dennis stole $2,000 from the fire company to pay his property taxes.

"We had boxes of documentation," said Roaring Spring Police Chief Milton Fields, who conducted the initial investigation before turning it over to state police.

Dennis did not answer calls Thursday at a home phone number.

The search reportedly began in March 2011, when fire company officials got a call from a Texas-based bank indicating that a $154,380 loan for a fire truck had gone unpaid. It was merely a case of poor bookkeeping, Fields said, but it led police to contact a Johnstown firm for a full audit.

The audit allegedly revealed more cases of questionable bookkeeping, all during Dennis's 2008-2011 stints as company treasurer and chief. He also served as acting and full-time Blair County emergency management director from 2005 to 2009, though the charges don't involve that job.

"The more I looked at the situation, the more we started having some red flags pop up," Fields said. "Some of the improprieties led directly to Mr. Dennis."

Dennis wrote six checks to himself from a Friendship Fire Co. bank account, including two he left off the books and one he listed with a false recipient, police said. The checks, allegedly endorsed with Dennis's signature, totaled $5,600.

Fire company officials gave investigators a box of financial documents, including a bank statement for Dennis and his wife's personal account, police said. The statement allegedly showed a personal deposit coinciding with a withdrawal from the fire company's account. Dennis' wife isn't charged.

In June 2008, Dennis allegedly took $2,000 from the company and paid $1,869 to the Blair County Tax Claim Bureau the same day - the money was likely taken to pay his personal property taxes, police said in an affidavit.

A charge on the fire company's Capital One credit card showed a stay at the Homewood Suites hotel in Lexington, Ky., for a NASCAR race, police said. Dennis allegedly admitted to police that he'd used company funds to attend the race.

Dennis also allegedly pocketed cash from fire company fundraisers - including a gun raffle, dinner parties and an Irish music night - totaling an estimated $10,000, Fields said. Because fundraisers usually raise cash rather than checks, it's impossible to know exactly how much was allegedly taken, the criminal complaint stated.

Dennis admitted to taking the cash while attributing some discrepancies to poor record-keeping abilities, police said.

Among Dennis's nine felony charges are theft by deception and forgery: Police said he kept transactions off the books and hid spending information to make an investigation less likely.

Fields said there's no evidence that other fire company officers were involved in the alleged embezzlement.

"This was just the actions of one person," Fields said. "The whole situation is unique."

Dennis reportedly cited his full-time employment with a Washington, Pa.-based fire-safety equipment firm during his Aug. 6 arraignment.

He faces a preliminary hearing Thursday.

Republished with permission from Altoona Mirror

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