State asked to investigate Hahnville fire department
Finances would undergo close scrutiny
After months of bickering within the Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) and allegations of mismanaged funds, the fire service members have finally agreed on one thing – the organization should undergo a forensic legislative audit to determine if any money was misappropriated during the reign of former Fire Chief Reginald Gaubert.
In an HFVD meeting held last week, members voted unanimously to request the forensic audit of the fire department. Chris Boros, HVFD president, said whether anything improper did or did not occur, the matter does need to be resolved and the best way to do that is by requesting an in-depth look at the department’s financial records from an outside body.
“If there was wrongdoing going on then we will contact the next authority that needs to take care of this,” Boros said.
A forensic audit can be conducted in order to prosecute a party for fraud, embezzlement or other financial claims. In addition, an audit may be conducted to determine negligence.
The hint of problems within the HVFD first came to light last year when the legislative auditor demanded that the department return a $71,412 FEMA grant after they did not keep adequate time sheets for emergency pay provided to firefighters for recovery work done after Hurricane Katrina.
Shortly after the grant was ordered to be returned, Gaubert, who served as the department’s chief for 25 years, resigned and Stanley Wajda was hired in late December as the new paid chief.
However, Wajda stepped aside from the position on July 1, citing threats and intimidation from members loyal to Gaubert. Those threats included two letters left on Wajda’s vehicle and pictures that he says were secretly taken of his family.
Wajda said the threats began shortly after the fire department was asked to provide legal counsel to Gaubert and other members of the department in connection with an ongoing investigation undertaken by the Louisiana Board of Ethics. The details of that investigation are unknown.
Wajda also said his signature was forged on time sheets and equipment usage forms that made up part of the FEMA grant. Equipment that was purchased using the grant is reportedly missing.
“There were pots and pans and burners and all this other stuff that was quoted on it. Where is it? If we bought it, where is it?” Wajda said. “I’ve got two boxes in there for ovens right now and I’ve only got one oven. Where is it? Where is the stuff we were told we had?”
While Wajda resigned as chief, he has decided to stay on as a volunteer member of the fire department with the hope of making positive changes.
“The fire department is finally addressing the issues and they are going to be taken care of,” he said.
Addressing those issues through a forensic audit could lead to personnel changes, Wajda said.
“Some people might resign, some people might quit, some people might get kicked out,” he said.
Once that is taken care of, Wajda is confident that the firefighters will get back to doing what they do best.
“This fire department will provide fire protection and that is our business,” he said. “Please give us some time and they are going to get everything back straight and it will get back to normal.”
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