There have been a number of fire service embezzlement cases that have been covered in this blog the past few years. Most involve the theft of large sums from volunteer fire companies by trusted officials. A few involve thefts by elected union officials from career firefighter unions. This one is different.
A chief officer from Virginia has filed a multi-million dollar civil suit alleging that embezzlement charges brought against him were part of an elaborate scheme to damage his reputation and cause him emotional distress.
Martinsville Fire & EMS Assistant Chief John Russell was terminated from the department on June 30, 2009 after being accused of discrepancies in his time records. He was later indicted for grand larceny, embezzlement, obtaining money by false pretense, and misappropriation of public funds.
In October, 2010, Chief Russell was acquitted by a Martinsville Circuit Court judge who ruled at trial that the Commonwealth failed to present enough evidence for a jury to find him guilty. All four charges were dismissed.
In spite of the acquittal the city stood by its decision to terminate Chief Russell, releasing a statement stating that “an internal investigation, a state police investigation, a specially appointed Commonwealth’s Attorney and a grand jury all concluded that probable cause existed to believe he (Russell) committed criminal acts” and the “City stands by its handling of this matter and its decision to terminate Mr. Russell’s employment.”
On October 25, 2011, roughly a year after his acquittal, Chief Russell filed a civil lawsuit seeking $3 million-plus another $350,000 in punitive damages. The suit names Fire Chief Kenneth Draper, Deputy Fire Chief Kristopher W. Shrader and City Manager Clarence Monday as defendants, and alleges the officials caused his malicious prosecution.