• 75°

Former Rome VFD chief, assistant chief indicted: Accused of stealing over $100,000 from fire department funds

Two former Rome Township Volunteer Fire Department officials have been indicted and the pair is accused of stealing over $100,000 from the non-profit organization that is supported by a fire levy and donations from the community.

Nick Kuhn, current chief of Rome Volunteer Fire Department, said that, at this time, the fire department has very little information about the extent or value of the alleged misappropriation of funds.

“We’ve looked at our financial practices and made some adjustments to the way we perform business, which will make it difficult for one or even two individuals to make poor choices that affects our funding. At this time, I cannot comment on further facts involving an ongoing case but I want to assure the public that currently all funds are being accounted for and spent only for fire department-related matters.”

According to grand jury indictments released on Wednesday, former fire chief George Barnett was indicted on three counts of fifth-degree felony theft, two counts of fourth-degree felony theft, four counts of fifth-degree felony filing incomplete, false or fraudulent income tax returns and one count of second-degree felony engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

The indictment accuses Barnett of taking $87,575.96 in funds from the Rome VFD between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2018.

Former assistant chief Kenneth Bench was indicted on two counts of fifth-degree felony theft, two counts of fourth-degree felony theft, one count of first-degree misdemeanor theft, four counts of fifth-degree felony filing incomplete, false or fraudulent income tax returns and one count of second-degree felony engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity.

According to figures in the indictment, Bench is accused of stealing $25,308.22 from the Rome VFD between Jan. 1, 2014 and Dec. 31, 2018.

The two men resigned their positions in the fire department last October after an investigation into the alleged mishandling of funds began. They have been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.

The cases are in the Lawrence County Common Pleas Court of Judge Christen Finley. Hearings have not been set yet.

Kuhn said the department is cooperating with investigators and have turned over documents.

“Public trust and transparency are one of the many pillars of our successful existence,” Kuhn said.

The Rome Volunteer Fire Department is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

A portion of the department’s annual operating budget is comprised of donations from the community and local businesses, while the majority of funding is taxpayer provided through a property tax fire levy administered by the Rome Township Trustees.

Brian Pinkerman, president of Rome Township Trustees, said they are confident in Rome Volunteer Fire Department and their ability to provide excellent fire protection services for the township.

“From our perspective, the new administration of the fire department has taken a proactive approach to identify and address internal issues,” he said. “The fire department has a dedicated group of hard working, well trained volunteers.”