The loss of $2,900 from the Kerens Volunteer Fire Department in May has led to the arrest of the group’s treasurer, Kaell Mullen.
Mullen has been charged with theft of more than $1,500 and less than $20,000 by a public servant, a third-degree felony.
The loss was noticed in May by Kerens Fire Chief Charlie Bush, who called on the Kerens Police Department for help. Police Chief Bryan Miers investigated the case, tracking the purchases to Mullen, who was arrested on June 5. Mullen was released after posting a $10,000 bond that same day, according to Navarro County Sheriff Elmer Tanner.
“We terminated him from the department due to his alleged actions,” Bush said of Mullen. “Basically, we put in the certified letter that it was due to discrepancies in the treasurer’s accounting.”
The discrepancies came from a debit card that Mullen had been authorized to get on the department’s account to make it easier to buy truck parts and printer ink off the Internet. However, the charges that began showing up were for deck materials from Home Depot, home tile, even payments to DISH Network (satellite TV service) for Mullen’s home, and gas from the local convenience stores.
The card had been issued back in September, but most of the charges appeared this past spring, Bush said.
“There were only a few purchases in the first few months but in March and April is when it really went wild,” Bush said. In April, Bush said they found about $1,300 in questionable charges.
The discrepancies were noticed because the treasurer was turning over a spreadsheet each month to the fire department, not the actual bank statements. But after he’d missed a couple of meetings, Bush became suspicious and opened the next bank statement that arrived at the fire department. Seeing the charges, he went to the bank and got six months worth of activity.
“We had a meeting and confronted him with it and he denied the charges were his,” Bush said. “He denied using the card for personal use. He claimed it was identity theft, so I had no choice but to turn it over to the police department for investigation.”
They notified Mullen he was no longer part of the department, appointed Terry Stovall as interim treasurer, and then told the Emergency Service District #1 board what had happened.
Basically, the board reimburses Kerens for authorized expenses, like car parts or fuel for fighting grass fires, one month after the departments submit a statement. Three departments have the arrangement with the ESD #1— Kerens, Powell and 287 Richland Chambers. The ESD is funded by an ad valorem tax paid by property owners in the district.
“In our contract we’re to notify them of any significant events in the department, and I felt obligated to tell them what happened,” Bush said. “It’s taxpayer dollars, even though we’re reimbursed.”
Whether the money taken was from property taxes or from other sources wasn’t part of the criminal case, Miers said.
“I didn’t get into that part of the investigation,” he said. “It didn’t matter to me where the money came from. It belonged to the fire department and was used for personal use by their treasurer.
“Whether it was donated by Joe Blow, or if it came from a fundraiser, or the ESD, their bank account was missing a little over $2,900. We backtracked it and got an arrest warrant and put him in jail,” Miers said.
The ESD #1 board will offer some advice to the department on how to make their system safer, but it wasn’t just their money, said David Foreman, chairman of the ESD #1 board.
“We’re not the only one they get money from,” said David Foreman, chairman of the ESD #1 board. “We feel like our money’s accounted for. But we feel like they need a better system so their money can’t be taken.”
In the meantime, the Kerens Volunteer Fire Department is facing a shortage of funds as they go into their busiest time of the year — grass fire season.
“This has been a bad time last few weeks for the Kerens Fire Department,” Bush said. “It’s really unfortunate that this happened, but it shouldn’t be a reflection on the department because this is one bad apple. The other 99 percent of firefighters are super-dedicated and would never have done anything like this.”
Janet Jacobs may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to “soundoff” to this article? Email: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com