SWITZERLAND COUNTY, In. (FOX19) - Five Switzerland County residents were arrested recently on charges they committed fraud and stole from a village’s volunteer fire department.
Patriot, with a population of 208, has been without a fire department since 2017, when the last fire chief was charged by the Indiana State Board of Accounts with embezzling $28,000 of department funds.
Christopher See, 27, Christopher Miller, 32, Caitlyn Staat, 19, Jacob Parker, 35, and Lewis Fritter, 42, sought to restart the department, according to both Indiana State Police investigators and the five defendants' attorney. Whether they did so legally remains at issue.
ISP Sgt. Steven Wheeles explains an investigation began after ISP was notified the group was attempting to fraudulently gain control of the equipment and assets of the non-operational fire department.
An ISP release details that attempt, claiming See filed fraudulent paperwork with the State of Indiana in March to take control of the department.
The five defendants then held a meeting without giving proper public notice and without giving notice to the remaining members of the Patriot Volunteer Fire Department, the release says.
At the meeting, attended only by the five defendants and without following the existing PVFD bylaws, See was chosen as president, Miller as the new chief, Parker as the new assistant chief and Staat as the treasurer, according to the release.
The investigation found See, Miller and Staat contacted First Financial Bank in Vevay and used the fraudulently filed paperwork to put their names on the department’s accounts. Then they gained access to the department’s building containing the department’s equipment.
The defendants were arrested and charged following the Switzerland County Prosecutor’s Office review of the investigation, according to ISP.
The five face charges of conspiracy to defraud a financial institution and conspiracy to commit theft. See faces additional charges of perjury and official misconduct.
“I think you have a group of folks here that were trying to do a good thing, and now they are facing the possibility of criminal consequences,” Defense Attorney Judson Miller said.
“If you look at the steps they took to reestablish this fire department, everything they did was upfront and public. They are being accused now of fraud of a financial institution or perjury, but their initial steps were to file with the secretary of state to let everyone know what they were doing.”
The defendants' next court date is Jan. 4.