Auditor's report questions spending at Benton County Fire District #6

BENTON COUNTY, Wash. -- The state is questioning the way money was spent by one of our local fire protection districts. A fraud investigation is underway for taxpayer money spent by Benton County Fire District 6. KEPR spoke with the fire chief to see how this happened.

We all expect our tax dollars to be spent appropriately - not on things like leather boots, tablets, and a DVD labeler that are clearly for personal use. The State Auditor's Office found questionable of taxpayer money by Benton County Fire Protection District #6, based in Paterson. The state is pointing to one likely suspect: the former secretary. The district itself knew something was amiss.

"They had performed a preliminary investigation themselves and then brought us into the case," said Thomas Shapley from the Washington State Auditor's Office.

The state found almost $7,000 spent on purchases that weren't used by the district. Just over $1,000 was spent on questionable purchases. Another $11,000 was spent on purchases that were either questionable or couldn't be proved as necessary for the district. That totaled almost $20,000 in public funds that may have been misspent.

"They don't dispute anything and they're working on making things better," said Shapley.

KEPR took the audit report to the fire station to ask the chief about the spending. No one was there. Fire Chief Rolland Watt returned a phone call but did not want to speak on camera. Chief Watt referred us to his response in the audit report. It explains what the district is doing to make sure this doesn't happen again, including making sure one person doesn't have sole responsibility on spending.

The secretary resigned when he was questioned about the spending nearly two years ago, but some of the items couldn't be recovered. They were either damaged or wiped clean. The Benton County Prosecutor now has the case.

"Thank goodness fraud, alleged fraud, alleged misappropriation of public funds are fairly rare. They're always sadly surprising, when we do find them," said Shapley.

Prosecutor Andy Miller said he just got the case this morning, so no charges have been filed. This is also why the former secretary is not being identified.

You can read the full auditor's report here.