Chief Officer Convictions in the News

Two high ranking fire officers in two different states have been convicted in the past week. In Montana, former Central Valley Fire District fire chief Brett Waters pled guilty to one count of “official misconduct” for using fire department equipment and on-duty personnel to perform work on his house. He was sentenced to ten days in jail, but has been allowed into a work-release program.

In Miami, Assistant Chief Veldora Arthur was convicted of three counts of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud in a multi-million-dollar mortgage scheme that involved using straw buyers to submit false mortgage-applications to lenders. Arthur and two co-defendants were convicted by a jury last Wednesday after a 14 day trial.

Arthur was featured in news articles recently over her alleged salary and pension. Let me quote the so I get it right: “Arthur had been earning $184,336 a year to oversee the fire department’s payroll, and entered the deferred retirement option program in September 2010, with a $166,687 pension. Hers was among the cases cited in a recent series in The Miami Herald about how generous pensions are hurting municipal budgets.”

Now I don’t know about you, but when I see numbers like that I get infuriated… not for the reasons that the media intended. Those numbers are being thrown out there intentionally to mislead the public and focus blame for the current economic crisis on public employees. That is just plain wrong. There is no way those numbers can be accurate. More than likely the $184,336 figure represents a total benefit package cost, placing Arthur’s salary more in the $95,000 range.

The $166,687 annual pension is just as absurd for a 44 year old employee even if the $184k annual salary figure was somehow accurate – that would be 90% of her last highest year. It’s not possible!!! $166k has to represent her receiving a one-time payment (most likely either her pension contribution withdrawal or her drop program payout). Either way – those misleading figures are being quoted, requoted and used maliciously to publically discredit all public employees and that is reprehensible. While that kind of yellow journalism may not have been intended to influence the jury, it is hard to imagine it didn’t. Perhaps no one is speaking up because of the nature of the charges – but it’s not right.

Incidentally, Chief Arthur is still listed as being as the Assistant Chief of the Technical Service Division for Miami Fire Rescue. According to the US Attorney’s Office, she raked in over $300,000 in one month from the fraud scheme. The total scheme produced over $11 million in fraudulent loans and over $7 million in losses for lenders…. Speaking of losses you remember… Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac …. the real reason for the economic crisis…… before public employees became the more convenient excuse.

Chief Arthur will be sentenced in December. She faces up to 20 years on each count. More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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