A Connecticut fire chief has been arrested and charged with submitting fraudulent tax abatement documentation for firefighters who failed to meet the minimum eligibility requirements.
Chief Paul Litrico, who served as fire chief for the Eighth Utilities District in Manchester until last July, was arrested earlier this week and charged with second-degree larceny (defrauding a public community), and false entry by an agent of a public community.
The tax abatement in question grants a $400 a year abatement from motor vehicle taxes to volunteer firefighters who make a minimum of 120 runs, at least 25 of which must be mutual aid responses.
A police investigation disclosed that just three of 17 members who Chief Litrico certified as having met the minimum requirements, actually did. A subsequent review by the new fire chief, Ron Russo, disclosed a total six of the 17 firefighters qualified. Included in the totals were Chief Litrico, and his wife, former Assistant Chief Mary Beth Litrico. Both were allegedly short on the mutual aid responses.
Chief Litrico’s attorney, Kevin O’Brien, claims that the records that police used to build their case were incomplete and reliable. “The chief is innocent and we’ll prove it,” O’Brien said.
This case touches on a truly challenging issue in many fire departments. Qualifying for tax abatements, LOSAPs, or other benefits in a volunteer fire department can become an emotional and self-righteous issue. Often there is a sense that folks who have qualified for years and perhaps have an off year deserve to be given the benefit despite not meeting all the technical requirements.
Also, in many departments the officers are elected and excluding folks from such a benefit can become a rallying cry for replacing a “chief without a heart”. Nevertheless – the consequences of fraudulent conduct are real – regardless of how the fraud can be rationalized by individual members. Chief Litrico will be back in court on January 8, 2013.