Not Your Typical Embezzlement Case: Virginia Chief Fights Back

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.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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