The Center Square – The Auditor General has asked the Center County District Attorney in Pennsylvania to investigate a local firefighter relief association after a financial audit found nearly $30,000 in missing funds.
“I have asked the district attorney’s office to take a closer look at whether any laws have been violated,” Auditor General Timothy DeFoor said in a statement. Press release. “Due to the seriousness of this matter, my department will withhold state assistance to the association until we have answers.”
Center County, as its name suggests, is located in central Pennsylvania. It is home to Penn State University; Gregg Township is east of the university’s main campus and considered within its metropolitan statistical area.
A June Audit from the Gregg Township Firemen’s Relief Association which covered the period January 2017 to December 2021 had eight findings detailing non-compliance with previous audit recommendations, undocumented expenditures and unknown withdrawals, inadequate record keeping and other problems.
The audit does not accuse the association of having broken the law, but is concerned about the poor procedures and documentation.
“Our audits are done on a regular basis to make sure they’re keeping their books properly,” said April Hutcheson, director of communications for the auditor general’s department. “A lot of times if he’s fired it’s because we suspect there’s potentially something criminal going on that merits further investigation by law enforcement.”
The audit report is “under review and investigation to see if anything more is warranted,” Center County District Attorney Bernie Cantorna said.
The association is a separate legal entity from the fire department. Rescue associations are charitable organizations intended to financially protect volunteer firefighters and encourage local volunteerism. They receive funds from the state for various uses. Since 2017, the association has received around $15,000 a year in state aid.
The Gregg Township Fire Company declined to comment.
The audit found that approximately $26,000 had been withdrawn from the association’s savings account “without providing adequate documentation for the use or location of these funds.” Withdrawals ranged from $310 to $3,000 over a 20 month period.
The Volunteer Firefighters Relief Association Act requires the signatures of two relief association officers, but only one person signed the withdrawals
“When asked what happened, the Treasurer of the Relief Association indicated that documentation from the financial institution had been obtained; however, no documentation was provided by the treasurer,” the report said.
The audit also noted approximately $40,000 of undocumented expenses from February 2019 to March 2021 that “the relief association was unable to provide adequate supporting documentation” to substantiate. The auditor noted that invoices, itemized receipts, and itemized meeting minutes are necessary to verify that expenses are in accordance with state law.
“Relief association officials did not provide a reason why this happened,” the report noted. “When the relief association treasurer was asked why the relief association was unable to provide supporting documentation, he indicated that he had the documentation; however, no documentation was provided by the treasurer.
Minutes from the 2017 and 2018 meetings were also not available, listeners noted.
“Relief association officials provided no response to our numerous requests for meeting minutes,” the report said. “Relief association officials also did not provide a reason why meeting minutes were not signed or why they did not respond to our emails verifying the validity of the lawsuits. -meeting minutes.”
The relief association has also been criticized for its “inadequate financial record-keeping system” and failure to keep a journal of receipts and disbursements for three years, failure to use a ledger to record transactions and the absence of investment lists for the activity of the association’s investments.
“The purpose of these audits is to make sure that all of these funds are being spent properly and properly,” Hutcheson said.
A referral to the public prosecutor is relatively rare. In July, the auditor returned an audit from a Westmoreland County Relief Association to the District Attorney, and a February 2021 Audit from a rescue association in Beaver County was shared with local law enforcement.
In 2021, $54 million was paid out to approximately 2,500 municipalities for their volunteer firefighter relief associations. Funding comes from a 2% tax on fire insurance policies sold by companies outside the state of Pennsylvania.
“These are funds meant to help and support volunteer fire organizations, so we work very hard to make sure they are spent properly,” Hutcheson said. “It’s important for everyone to understand what’s going on in their local community.”