Items were purchased using federal grant
Subpoenas have been served to former Hahnville Fire Chief Reginald Gaubert and other members of the department in connection with an ongoing investigation by the Louisiana Board of Ethics.
In a meeting held on May 7, Gaubert, who led the department for 28 years, requested the Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department (HVFD) board of directors provide legal defense fees for he and others who had received subpoenas from the Board of Ethics.
Details of the investigation are unknown, but it comes on the heels of an audit last year that revealed the HVFD was required to pay back a $72,412 FEMA grant after they did not keep adequate time sheets for emergency pay provided to firefighters for recovery work done after Hurricane Katrina.
A records request for all pay sheets by the St. Charles Herald-Guide revealed a nearly $7,000 discrepancy between the amount requested by HVFD for emergency pay for firefighters and what those firefighters actually received.
“There are hours that we billed to FEMA with their signature on that paper, but we didn’t pay the members that,” new Hahnville Fire Chief Stanley Wajda said.
Wajda said he doesn’t know what happened to the funds in question.
“Was the money stolen? Was it misappropriated? We don’t know,” he said.
Wajda, who replaced Gaubert as fire chief in December 2013, said equipment that was supposedly purchased under that grant cannot be located.
“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? 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?” he said.
Shortly after questioning members of the fire department about the missing items and investigating the records himself, Wajda found a threatening note left on his vehicle signed, “We the members of the Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department.”
“Stanley we will not stop until you [sic] removed from office. You do not deserve this position. I would suggest you resign because if not we will force you out. We will break you down one way or another. So resign you your [sic] a asshole and will always be one. This is your final warning,” the letter read.
Wajda received a second letter on May 8.
“Stanley. You need to leave my family alone. Or else!!!!!” the letter read.
Because the letter implied violence, the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office wrote a report on the issue.
“Mr. Wajda stated that on May 7, 2014 while conducting a meeting at the fire department, there was a heated discussion among several members regarding ethic violations within the department,” the report said.
The police report did not identify a suspect.
Sgt. Dwayne LaGrange, spokesman for the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, said the matter is still being investigated.
The ethics investigation is not the first sign that financial improprieties may have occurred in the past.“My first month in office I got a call from the FBI. A complaint was made and they were inquiring about fraud, wire fraud or misappropriation of funds,” Wajda said.
However, Wajda said the FBI determined they would not undertake a full-blown investigation into the mysterious matter because the statute of limitations had elapsed.
Wajda said he will not be intimidated in his quest to clean up the fire department.
“I believe I have the right to do a good job without intimidation and harassment, and I am addressing the issues that are on the paperwork,” he said.
Wajda said an important part of moving forward is going back and making sure that the fire department does not have any outstanding issues that need to be addressed.
“We are working to make us better so we don’t do what has happened in the past. But at the same time we are researching and bringing these things up,” he said.
The ethics investigation is at least the second related to Gaubert’s reign as fire chief.
Gaubert first became a paid administrator for the fire department in 2003 before becoming its first paid fire chief. A day prior to becoming a paid fire chief, Gaubert was given notice by the Louisiana Board of Ethics that he should not take a paid position due to a conflict of interest given that his daughter, Dawn Landry, had been serving as the fire department’s treasurer and handling all of the fire department’s financial affairs.
Despite the finding, Gaubert was appointed as paid fire chief the next day. Subsequently, Gaubert was forced to resign in 2005 after the Board of Ethics discovered he had violated state law by accepting the position. As a result, Gaubert was also fined $2,000, which was paid by the fire department on his behalf.
In 2007 Gaubert returned as paid chief even though Landry did not step down as treasurer. He served in that capacity until late last year. According to a source, the Board of Ethics may be looking into the fact that Gaubert served as paid fire chief again despite the fact that his daughter remained treasurer.
Although the Hahnville Volunteer Fire Department and the parish’s eight other fire departments are non-profit entities, they are funded by local taxpayers. Fire department funding comes from a 1/8 cent sales tax measure that is renewed every 10 years. In addition, a portion of the parish’s property taxes are dedicated to funding the fire departments.
Wajda wants the public to get more involved in the goings on at his fire department.
“On July 9 at 7 p.m. is our next business meeting and I would invite the public to come,” Wajda said. “I think the public has a right to see what is going on in this fire department and see that we are going to move past all of this.”
When contacted by the Herald-Guide, HVFD president Chris Boros would not comment on the investigation.
Gaubert did not return a call requesting comment on the matter.