HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. - The former treasurer of the Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department is facing federal charges after authorities believe he stole money from the department. According to federal court documents, Norman Burgess stole close to $140,000 over nearly four years.
A spokesperson for the fire department said a new administration came in and wanted to check the department's account after some numbers didn't add up. However, Burgess declined to pass over any information.
That's when the fire department, with other township officials, asked for help from the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office. Indiana State Police and Indiana State Board of Accounts then helped get a federal investigation started in July 2016.
This week, the investigation wrapped and Burgess was indicted on six federal counts of wire fraud.
According to documents, Burgess wrote 112 checks to himself which he was not entitled to from WTVFD's account. He reportedly received $59,656.49 in unauthorized payments.
He also made more than 200 cash withdrawals totaling $64,616.70.
Documents also said the treasurer used the fire department's funds and bank accounts for many other purchases, which includes paying for funeral expenses for a deceased relative and more than a hundred purchases on Amazon.com.
Authorities said the amount used by Burgess totaled $139,550.89.
“It’s a brotherhood and you’d hate to think you’d steal from family," said Ronald Taylor, the Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department Chief. "That’s what probably hurts the most.”
Burgess had been on the Wayne Township Volunteer Fire Department since August 2008 and had been clerk treasurer since 2011. He was responsible for all accounts payable systems, including payroll. He resigned in October 2016.
“When it happens to you, you feel really betrayed," said Wayne Township Trustee Diane Crim. "It hurts that one of your own would do something like that with total disregard to his brothers in arms.”
Crim said the roughly $140,000 missing from the fire department is approximately half of the fire department's budget for a year.
“Any volunteer fire department around the state, to lose that kind of money, it would be very damaging,” Taylor said.
The money could have addresses several items on the department's to-do list. Such as replacing an ambulance that is now 22 years old.
It could have also been used to kick start the construction of a new fire station. The department has already been given three acres of land across the road. The current fire house is 60 years old and the 26 volunteers on staff and the equipment fills up all the space.
“I know the trustee has been working on it really hard, trying to make it come to fruition for us," Taylor said. "Hopefully, everything will come together and maybe we can get some ground broke soon.”
The department said since the discovery, financial accountability systems have been reviewed and new measures put into place to ensure that no single member has complete control over payroll and accounts payable systems.
Court documents said the unapproved transactions were made between January of 2013 to the end of 2016.
Taylor and the township trustee said the 8,500 residents in the township, which sits east of Noblesville and north of Fishers, will not see a reduction in fire protection due to the missing money.
Right now, Burgess is set for a jury trial on May 21.