Pa. firefighter relief fund to be audited amidst firefighter theft charges

The Delmont Volunteer Firemen’s Relief Association will be audited as four former members are charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars


By Paul Pierce
Tribune-Review

DELMONT, Pa. — State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Monday a team from his office will begin auditing the Delmont Volunteer Firemen’s Relief Association as four former members of the fire department are charged with stealing tens of thousands of dollars in recent years.

“I was deeply troubled by the theft charges filed against several former members of the fire department,” DePasquale said. “Although the Delmont Volunteer Fire Department Relief Assocation is a separate entity, I want to make certain that the group’s books are in perfect order.”

Four former volunteer fire department members await preliminary hearings on theft allegations dating to 2013: ex-fire Chief Logan Clark, 35; his wife, Heather, 35; ex-treasurer Jason G. Thomas, 37; and Timothy Bucciarelli, 60. A review of nearly four years of department finances led to allegations that the group misspent $60,000, according to documents filed by Westmoreland County Detective Paul Burkey.

Thomas is accused of an additional count of access device fraud for allegedly using a department credit card for purchases that were for personal benefit, according to court documents.

Preliminary hearings are scheduled Dec. 10 before Export District Judge Charles R. Conway.

DePasquale said his team will begin to audit the volunteer firemen’s relief association, which was last audited in 2016. In that audit, DePasquale said auditors noted three findings: undocumented expenditures, failure to maintain bond coverage and inadequate signatory authority for the disbursement of funds. The audit covered the period of Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2015.

DePasquale noted Delmont’s VFRA received $13,825 in state aid funds in 2017. The money is to be used to maintain and purchase fire equipment, provide training and insurance and help to ensure public safety.

In a recent interview, Clark called the accusations “completely frivolous and without merit.”

“Basically, some new people came in and wanted to be in charge and didn’t like how we did things,” Clark said.

He declined to get into specifics.

Assistant District Attorney Pete Flanigan said the complaints were filed after Burkey and accountants spent months investigating and reviewing fire department financial records. The fire officials were removed after the alleged financial discrepancies were discovered, officials said.

Allegations made in court documents include:

  • Thomas is accused of cashing $45,885 in checks from department funds for personal benefit, plus making additional charges on a fire department credit card totalling $4,115. Thomas is accused of making personal payments from department funds on a Ford F-150, cellphone bills, motor vehicle repairs, three Apple iPads and purchases on Amazon, according to court documents.
  • Bucciarelli, a former firefighter, is accused of cashing department checks amounting to $9,275 for personal benefit.
  • Heather Clark, who was a member of the fire department’s ladies auxiliary, is alleged to have received and cashed a department check for $1,000 for working a bingo fundraiser for the department on Dec. 18, 2016.
  • Logan Clark is accused of spending $341 to buy Pittsburgh Pirates tickets from Emmanuel Reformed Church UCC. Logan Clark, Bucciarelli, Thomas and two former VFD presidents attended the game.

Delmont Firemen’s Relief Association President Donald Cline and fire Chief Rich Balik have declined comment, saying prosecutors advised them not to comment on the case.

Cline did say the department has made changes in its accounting procedures.

Copyright 2018 Tribune-Review

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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