Theft at Volunteer Fire Department Costs Marion Taxpayers

by John Madewell

A former leader of the Haletown Volunteer Fire Department stole thousands of dollars from it and Marion County won't see all of its taxpayer dollars returned.

Late last month, Tennessee's Comptroller of the Treasury released its report of "cash shortages and other thefts" in County offices. Haletown VFD stood out.

Billy Joe Henegar admitted to stealing thousands of dollars out of the Haletown VFD bank account, but taxpayers will not see all of their money returned.

The money came out of Haletown Volunteer Fire Department's bank account from 2005 to 2010. Henegar served as chief, secretary and treasurer. According to the Comptroller's report, Henegar was writing checks to himself.

In April, 2010 he paid back $7,800.

But $87,000, most of it from Marion taxpayers, was still unaccounted for. Marion County Executive John Graham said the county gave Haletown V-F-D about $35,000 a year.

Graham said, "It's a burden on the taxpayers and it's something we absolutely don't tolerate. We hate that it happens, but unfortunately in life there are thefts and there are individuals that will do those type of things."

NewsChannel 9 located Henegar at his home. Henegar said, "I ain't talking to y'all." When asked if he had paid the money back, Henegar responded, "Hell, I'm paying it. Get off my property."

In January, Henegar pled guilty to theft of between $10,000 to $60,000.The judge ordered him to pay $30,000 back to the Haletown Volunteer Fire Department at $175 a month. According to court records, he has made three payments.

At that rate, it will take him 14 years. So what about the remaining $57,000? County Executive Graham said, "There's very little assets out there that can be retrieved by the County. The individual that did this virtually has no assets, so there's virtually nothing that the county can go after."

We took the money breakdown to Marion County taxpayers.

Don Deakins said, "He should have to pay back plus. It wasn't his money, it was our money."

Jim Billingsley added, "He's writing his own self checks? Somebody should have seen that right there."

Graham said in a couple of weeks the county is meeting with a state association about much more oversight of its volunteer fire departments.

He added the county explored taking Henegar's home, but it had too many liens on it and wasn't worth the legal expense.

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