CELINA – The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office this week released a special investigation report involving the theft of money from the Clay County Rescue Squad and the Pea Ridge Volunteer Fire Department in Celina. The investigations were completed in conjunction with the District Attorney Bryant Dunaway’s office in the 13th Judicial District.
Laurence Bradford Stafford, former captain of the rescue squad and former chief of the fire department, is at the center of both investigations.
Investigators say that from January 2013-September 2015, Stafford used rescue squad funds totaling at least $4,485 for his personal benefit or the benefit of others. Some of this money was collected during rescue squad fundraisers.
Additionally, Stafford charged – and allowed others to charge – fuel, cigarettes and diapers for personal use on the rescue squad’s account. He also allowed undocumented reimbursement payments to himself and other rescue squad members from the rescue squad bank account. Investigators were unable to determine if the payments were for legitimate rescue squad expenses.
A separate investigation into the Pea Ridge Volunteer Fire Department revealed that Stafford and his wife, former assistant fire chief Tabitha Stafford, took at least $8,705 in fire department funds for their personal benefit. The Staffords used the money to make purchases including two mobile homes and a vehicle. They received other payments totaling $4,475 for which there was no supporting documentation, investigators say.
The Pea Ridge investigation also uncovered similar problems with allowing inappropriate fuel purchases and undocumented reimbursement payments with volunteer fire department funds.
The fire department’s bank balance decreased from more than $38,000 in April 2012, when Stafford became fire chief, to a deficit of $62 in September.
According to the Dale Hollow News Magazine, in December, the Clay County grand jury indicted the Staffords and six others – Shaun Stafford, Carrie Stafford, Byron Beck, Cristy Spears, Jamie Key and Heather Key – on several counts of theft and conspiracy to commit theft.
“A simple change in the way money is handled could have prevented these thefts from occurring,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said in a release. “In both cases, officials failed to separate financial duties between multiple individuals and provide appropriate oversight. This problem is at the heart of nearly every theft we investigate.”
To view both special investigation reports online, go to: http://www.comptroller.tn.gov/ia/.