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Investigation stuns Cumberland Fire District official

August 22, 2013

CUMBERLAND – The chairman of the Cumberland Fire District’s Board of Commissioners Thursday said his board was slated to hold a closed-door meeting last night to discuss an ongoing State Police investigation into missing money from the Cumberland Fire District.
“We’ve got a lot to discuss,” said James N. Leonard. “We still have to pay bills and there are things we need to iron out while all of this is going on.”
The executive session meeting will be the first formal get together of the commissioners since the State Police financial crimes unit executed a search warrant Monday at the fire district’s headquarters on Mendon Road after receiving information from a “credible source” two months ago that thousands of dollars may be missing from the district, one of four independent fire districts in town. Investigators left Monday with four boxes of documents, files and paperwork.
Leonard said Thursday that neither he nor any other member of the board was aware that State Police had launched an investigation until 20 members of the financial crimes unit arrived Monday with a search warrant.
Neither do the commissioners know who it was that contacted authorities in the first place, he said.
“Obviously, someone is suspicious,” Leonard said. “We’re just dumbfounded. When I first heard what was going on, my heart sank.”
Leonard said neither he nor any of the other commissioners were personally aware of any discrepancies or problems with the district’s finances, adding all of the district’s bookkeeping is handled by the district treasurer-collector and her assistant.
The district’s treasurer-collector is Karen Lambert, a Cumberland resident and graduate of Bryant College, who has been working for the district for the past five years.
Leonard said it was investigators who stated that as much as $20,000 could be missing.
“That’s the number they threw out, but I don’t have any facts to base that on,” said Leonard, adding the district’s typical annual budget is around $1.6 million.
Leonard says as far as he knows the investigation is focusing strictly on the business office and has nothing to do with the Board of Commissioners, Fire Chief John Walsh or any of the district’s firefighters.
Leonard says there’s not much the district can do pending the outcome of the investigation.
“My hope is that this is all just a misunderstanding, but we’ll have to see how it plays out,” he said.
State Police Maj. Todd E. Catlow this week declined to provide any details on the investigation other than to say that the financial crimes unit is reviewing documents, files and other paperwork that were taken from the district’s headquarters on Mendon Road.
“The fire district is cooperating with the investigation,” he said.
Catlow said it is hard to predict how long the investigation will take, adding cases involving the financial crimes unit tend to take time due to the sheer amount of work that is involved pouring over financial documents.
The town is broken down into four areas that have independent fire districts. Each fire district bills the residents and businesses for fire protection. The three other fire districts are the Valley Falls Fire District, North Cumberland Fire District and the Cumberland Hill Fire District.
The Cumberland Fire District was created in 1992 when the Ashton and Berkeley Fire departments merged. The headquarters is located in what was previously the Ashton fire station.

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