AP NEWS

Financial safeguards in place at Rome VFD

May 8, 2019

ROME TOWNSHIP, Ohio — The new administration at the Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department has taken steps to assure that department funds are safe after two former fire officials were indicted on charges they stole more than $110,000.

“From our perspective, the new administration of the fire department has taken a proactive approach to identify and address internal issues,” said Brian Pinkerman, president of the Rome Township board of trustees. “The fire department has a dedicated group of hardworking and well-trained volunteers.”

The current administration implemented a new software-based accounting and financial system accessible by the board’s elected officers, said Fire Chief Nick Kuhn. The department also implemented new accounting procedures for financial tracking and purchase requests, he said in a prepared release.

The department also has scheduled a regular board meeting to discuss financial issues, including a breakdown of expenditures and the current financial status, Kuhn said. Fire officials also met with Rome Township trustees to discuss finances and spending, he said.

“Public trust and transparency are one of the many pillars of our successful existence,” Kuhn said. “At this time we have very little information about the extent or value of the alleged misappropriations. We have looked at our financial practices and made some adjustments.”

Those changes will make it difficult for one or two individuals “to make poor choices that affect our funding,” Kuhn said. Volunteer firefighters didn’t become aware of possible mishandling of department funds until October of last year, he said.

George F. Barnett III, 52, of Township Road 1121, Proctorville, Ohio, was indicted on charges he stole $87,575.96 in fire department funds between Jan. 1, 2014, and Dec. 31, 2018. He was a former chief at the volunteer fire department.

Barnett was indicted on five counts of theft, four counts of filing incomplete, false or fraudulent returns and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. If convicted on the 10 counts, he could face a maximum of 18 years in prison.

Kenneth D. Bench, 37, of Township Road 1056, Proctorville, was indicted on charges he stole $25,308.22 in fire department funds between 2014 and 2018. Bench was a former assistant chief at the volunteer fire department.

Bench was indicted on four felony theft counts, one misdemeanor theft count, four felony counts of filing incomplete, false or fraudulent returns and one count of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 17 years in prison.

“I want to assure the public that currently all funds are being accounted for and spent only for fire department-related matters,” Kuhn said.

The volunteer unit is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that received local taxes as well as accepting donations from the community and local businesses. The department currently receives about $138,698 through two fire levies, according to the county auditor’s office.

The department is a separate entity from the Rome Township Trustees. The trustees have a contractual relationship with the fire department to provide fire protection services to township residents.

“As township trustees, we are fully confident the Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department and their ability to provide excellent fire protection services for the township,” Pinkerman said.

The state auditor’s office assisted in an investigation into the missing funds, said Prosecuting Attorney Brigham Anderson.