Va. volunteer fire departments have string of embezzlement cases

(WJLA) - It stands along a rural road in Fauquier County – the kind of building you might not notice. But the Goldvein Volunteer Fire Department is now getting attention for all the wrong reasons.

Bill Christener, a one-time Goldvein Fire volunteer, has donated $50 to $100 to the department each year for the past 25 years. Like others, he is surprised by last month’s indictment of 42-year-old Kimberly Strayer – the former treasurer, who is now facing 13 counts of embezzling more than $50,000 from the department in 2012 and 2013.

"I guess that's the devastating part of it. You give thinking you're doing good," he says. "And then you find out somebody's driving a new car with your money. That hurts."

It’s still unknown as to what exactly she purchased with the money, but Strayer turned herself in to authorities late January. She is the latest in a line of employees at volunteer fire departments in Fauquier and Loudoun Counties accused or convicted of embezzling thousands of dollars for personal gain.

In Middleburg, former radio DJ and department treasurer Paul Draisey was being investigated for embezzling nearly $500,000 before committing suicide nearly two years ago.

Meanwhile in Aldie, former department treasurer Jerry Cromer pleaded guilty last year to embezzling nearly $650,000 over a 12-year period.

Fauquier County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Fisher says it usually begins after that person realizes there is very little oversight. First, he or she takes a little, then more, then even more.

"And as they are not being caught over a period of time, they get more and more brazen, more and more bold, and eventually it does come to light," he explains.

While the departments raise money for things like equipment and maintenance through events like pancake breakfasts and fill-the-boot campaigns, they also receive county funding. Counties typically conduct internal reviews of the departments, but only once every few years.

Sam Myers is Chief of the Warrenton Volunteer Fire Company, where 38-year-old Kelly Leach served as bookkeeper for six years. Leech is now in jail after pleading guilty last fall to six counts of embezzling nearly $20,000 from the department.

And sympathy runs strong in Remington, where Bo Taylor and William Stuart both pleaded guilty last year to stealing a combined $120,000 from the department. From the start, the case was being investigated by the FBI.

But despite the erosion of trust, local flower shop owner Caitlin Utz believes one bad flower doesn’t ruin a bouquet:

"It is unfortunate somebody would want to take something from a volunteer fire department, something we depend on so much."