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Posted March 17, 2011 EST

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Kingsdale Fire Co. Officers Sued
United States (Pennsylvania) - Allegations of Financial Mismanagement including missing money from fire company fundraisers, failure to properly audit records and use of public funds for a personal car payment are among the lengthy list of complaints against four Kingsdale Volunteer Fire Co. officials, as part of a suit filed recently by company members.

According to a civil suit filed in Adams County court, four company officials -- company President David Trump, Secretary-Treasurer Karen Fleharty and trustees Wayne Fleharty and Michael Reindollar -- have repeatedly "breached their fiduciary duty" since 2008, when the company lost its first-response status in Germany and Mount Joy townships, the two municipalities where it previously was a primary emergency responder.

The plaintiffs -- Christopher Topper, Edward Crisp and William England -- also allege improper elections of company officers since that time, a failure to produce requested records, and missing funds from such events as mud bogs and bingo nights.

But perhaps most importantly, said the plaintiffs' attorney, John S. Phillips, those officials have failed over the last two-plus years to make a proper effort to get Kingsdale, located at 1789 Frederick Pike in Littlestown, reinstated as a first-responder for the municipalities in that area. The company currently does not respond to any calls in Adams County.

"That's a concern to my clients who are members of the fire company," he said. "The only purpose for a fire company is to protect life and property from emergency. And right now, they're not acting like a fire company."

But the defendants' attorney, Harrisburg-based Craig Shagin, said on Tuesday that isn't the case. Shagin said his clients have reaped no financial gain from their positions with Kingsdale, and in fact have made tremendous time sacrifices to get a struggling organization back on its feet.

Contrary to the plaintiffs' allegations, the defendants have held regular and legal elections for the fire company, and operate strictly by the fire company's existing by-laws, Shagin said.

"My clients want to make (Kingsdale) active again and they're trying very hard to do this," he said. "This (lawsuit) is nothing more than a devastating distraction."

The suit, filed in the Adams County Court of Common Pleas on March 10, lists no fewer than 20 individual instances of what the plaintiffs say are improper uses of fire company funds.

Specifically, the suit alleges that since 2008 the defendants have written, signed or cashed checks totaling $232,052 for "bingo start up," while only receiving back $132,757 in deposits that mention bingo. The group has failed to account for $1,815 in funds from a May 2008 mud bog event, and February 2008 company meeting minutes reported $900 more in bingo profit than is indicated by withdrawals and deposits, the filing claims.

According to court documents, during the period from January 2008 to September 2010, checks written personally to Karen Fleharty totaled $4,184, while over the same period Wayne Fleharty personally received $12,624 in checks and Trump received $4,223. On April 22, 2006, Karen Fleharty wrote a $600 check from the company account to cover a personal car payment at Hi-Lo Auto Sales in Hanover, according to documents.

Fire company checks written to cash from January to June of 2008 total $72,750, documents state, and as of the Jan. 10, 2011 company meeting, Kingsdale had a general fund balance of $8.93.

"And on top of those things, the current officers haven't taken the necessary steps to regain the territory the fire company previously lost," Phillips said.

Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he could not comment on the suit, or confirm or deny the existence of any investigation into the fire company.

Shagin said while an official audit of the fire company's books has not been performed recently -- there's been no money for it, he said -- the company's records have been looked at by "an outside source" and verified as correct. And it's ironic the plaintiffs should complain about Kingsdale's money problems, he said, because the three have not paid their most recent membership dues.

He said while the company has not been listed as a responder in any area municipality, it has continued to raise money because funds are still required to pay fixed costs such as a mortgage and insurance. Shagin said his clients have done all they can to get back Kingsdale's service in Mount Joy and Germany townships.

But on Tuesday Mount Joy Township Chairman Supervisor John Gormont said he's seen little to indicate Kingsdale officials are trying hard to get their response area back.

"They've come to us in the past few years," he said, "but they've never followed through on anything they said they want to do."

Steven Bitzel, Germany Township's vice chairman supervisor, agreed, adding an inability to provide requested documentation is why Germany Township first dropped Kingsdale's service in 2008.

"We have not heard from them at all since that time," he said. "If these allegations are true, it would only serve to confirm and justify the decision to take them off (Germany Township's service), when they wouldn't provide us what we asked for."

A troubling shadow had been cast on Kingsdale for several years around 2008, after three company members were convicted of separate crimes. In one case, former Fire Chief Matthew Schatz resigned after being accused of having sex with junior members of the fire company, a charge to which he later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nearly a year in prison. In another, Michael Werdebaugh, a deputy chief at the time pleaded guilty to arson for his involvement in the torching of a hay bale Halloween decoration.

Today, in addition to the civil suit, Wayne Fleharty is also awaiting arraignment on charges that he fondled a 15-year-old girl while at a function at the fire hall in February 2010. Police charged Fleharty with one count each of corruption of minors and indecent assault.

Still, Shagin said, as regards the civil case he's seen no documents or old paperwork from the plaintiffs to back up the their claims, adding the court action is a result of longstanding bad blood and was made only for publicity.

"My clients have done their best for a crippled organization, and their thanks is to be libeled in court papers," he said. "Well, they will not be bullied, and we'll stay true and see this through."

Written by The Evening Sun

Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix


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