Chamber Luncheon features MHVFD Chief Phillips

Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department Chief John Phillips speaks about the past, present, and future of the department at the monthly Chamber of Commerce luncheon. PHOTO BY DEREK LACEY

 

At the last Mint Hill Chamber of Commerce luncheon of 2012, members were presented with “Mint Hill Fire Department: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; the challenge of keeping up,” by MHVFD Chief John Phillips.

The luncheon was held at Jimmie’s Restaurant on December 20, and after new members Pottery 51 and Cole’s Comfort Heating and Air were welcomed, Chief Phillips began his presentation, starting with the history of the department.

Phillips himself joined the department in 1974 at the age of 16, and he presented statistics of population, fires, and area of service from 1971 to the present.

He spoke briefly about the embezzlement case which has been a “black cloud” over the organization recently.

“We don’t dwell on it, but we don’t back away from it at the same time, because it is a situation that did happen, and we’re very remorseful, we’re very sorry that it did,” Phillips said.

But, Phillips said, there is a sort of silver lining.

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Former fire chief pleads guilty to embezzlement

Former Mint Hill fire chief, Jeremy Russell, pleaded guilty to one account of embezzlement Tuesday in the Charlotte U.S. District Court.  For nearly two years Russell stole $225,000 from the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the Town of Mint Hill by creating a sham business called Regional Medic & First Responder Supply Connection.  Mint Hill invoices were sent to his fake company and bank account.  The announcement from the U.S. Attorneys Office in Charlotte reads:

Russell generally kept the invoices to amounts under $5,000 and got the corresponding checks signed off by those at the Town and Fire Department with payment authority. According to the charging document, Russell picked up the checks at the mail drop and then deposited them into the bank account in Regional Medic’s name…According to the bill of information, Russell used the money to fund his personal lifestyle and a gambling habit.

The plea comes after a federal investigation of Russell’s actions.  The Town of Mint Hill received a federal subpoena May 24 and has been cooperating with investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Attorneys Office involving Russell.   The town took disciplinary action against him in April, and he resigned from his position as the Fire/EMS Operations Director.

The embezzlement charge has a maximum term of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  Russell has agreed to pay restitution “to all victims directly or indirectly harmed by the defendant’s relevant conduct.”

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Former Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Dept. Chief under investigation

By Amanda Waters
amandawaters@minthilltimes.com

The Town of Mint Hill received a federal subpoena May 24 and is cooperating with federal agencies in an investigation of recently resigned Fire Operations Director, Jeremy Russell.  “We are absolutely not under investigation as a town,” said Town Manager Brian Welch.  “The town is actively cooperating with them in their review.”
The Board of Commissioners passed a resolution May 24 authorizing the town staff, town attorney and members of the board “to meet with investigating agents and attorneys for the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the United States Attorneys Office.” According to the resolution they could inform investigating agents and attorneys of  “(1) the suspension, disciplinary action and later resignation of Mint Hill Fire Operations Director Jeremy Russell, (2) the reasons for and circumstances surrounding such personnel action and events, (3) the Town’s findings regarding Mr. Russell’s activities engaged in during his prior employment with the Town and as a volunteer with the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department, and (4) any additional information requested by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and/or the United States Attorneys Office in connection with their investigation of Mr. Russell and/or any related individuals and entities.”
Russell was hired as a paramedic June 13, 1994.  The town promoted him to Fire/EMS Operations Director April 1998.  He received a disciplinary suspension April 13, 2012, and resigned the same day. The Board of Commissioners held several closed sessions last month regarding an unspecified personnel matter.
The board passed a resolution April 12 “to inform the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department Board Chair and other members of the Board of Directors of the suspension and other disciplinary action involving Mint Hill Fire Chief Jeremy Russell and the reasons for such personnel action.”
The board also passed a resolution May 2 to make the MHVFD Board of Directors and counsel for the MHVFD aware of “the Town’s findings regarding Mr. Russell’s activities engaged in during his prior employment with the Town and as a volunteer with the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department.”
The FBI declined comment on its involvement with the investigation of Russell.
When asked what Russell is being investigated for, Welch said he was unable to comment and directed questions to the U.S. Attorneys Office, which also declined to comment.
Chairman of the MHVFD Board of Directors, Jerry Mullis, said “Our mission here at the Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department is to be responsive to the investigation, assist in any way we can, and go on in our mission of providing fire protection and emergency medical and transport to the people in our fire district.”
The fire department held a board meeting June 4, ending with a two-hour closed session where they discussed personnel and insurance matters and the investigation.
The fire department has experienced several personnel changes since Russell resigned.  John Phillips is the new fire chief, Tommy Moore is the assistant chief in charge of fire operations, David Leath is the assistant chief in charge of EMS operations, and the chief introduced three newly-hired firemen at last night’s meeting.  There were changes in the board, too, as Henry Allison stepped down as the vice chair and member of the board.

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Mint Hill Fire Chief resigns

The time allotted for public comments during the Board of Commissioners meeting at the Town Hall last Thursday was centered around the resignation of Fire Chief Jeremy Russell.  Russell resigned from his position in the town as the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Operations Director in April and as the fire chief on the day of the board meeting.
Volunteer fire department chairman Jerry Mullis asked the commissioners to consider hiring four new personnel rather than the original three the department asked for.  He said it is a requirement to have four people each shift, but that day they had only three.  The Mint Hill Volunteer Fire Department often receives double calls, but the staff limitations force more of a reliance on other organizations.
He also asked that the town release e-mails from the past chief.  Mullis explained that when Russell resigned from the town his e-mail was terminated.  He is concerned there may be issues that require the organization’s action within the e-mails, but they cannot be sure what those issues are.
Mullis said Russell resigned from the fire department so as to not bring that organization into the issues he was having with the town.
“He wanted us not to be involved with that,” said Mullis.
Russell’s mother, Virginia, also spoke during the public comments.  She asked the board to “pay my son for the vacation time he earned from the past 18 years.”
Russell was unavailable for comment.

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