A former Santa Barbara County firefighter is under investigation for allegedly embezzling funds from a local union chapter to which he belonged.
Noozhawk has learned that a former fire captain, whose identity has not been released, belonged to Santa Barbara County Firefighters Local 2046 and was approached with the allegations before submitting his retirement papers recently, which prevented him from being investigated internally.
Adam Estabrook, president of Local 2046, issued a statement Wednesday that said the group had discovered the discrepancies while conducting an audit of its insurance programs.
Inconsistencies were found in the account managed by the union’s insurance director, and he was removed from the position, Estabrook said. The group also notified law enforcement.
“The monies and programs associated with this account are run by the union and are 100 percent voluntary for its members. This account is in no way associated with taxpayer money or the responsibility of the Santa
Barbara County Fire Department,” Estabrook said.
Fire Chief Mike Dyer said he had been contacted by the union, who said the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department was looking into the case.
“[The suspect] is no longer an employee,” he told Noozhawk.
Dyer said the department had intended to conduct an administrative investigation, alongside the criminal investigation, but that now the Sheriff’s Department is in charge of looking at his record.
“You can’t investigate someone who’s no longer an employee,” he said.
Dyer was careful to say the man has not been convicted of the embezzlement, but that “it’s unfortunate if it’s all true.”
Sources at the Sheriff’s Department also confirmed that they began conducting a criminal investigation in mid-March for felony embezzlement of funds from the Santa Barbara County Firefighters Union, and “it will take several weeks before we are ready to submit the case to the District Attorney’s Office,” Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.
Dyer said he couldn’t elaborate further on the issue, and that more details would have to come from the Sheriff’s Department.
“It’s important to remember that things we do off-duty — if they’re connected in any way to what we do on duty — then we’re accountable,” he said.
Estabrook also said in his statement members benefits would not be affected by the incident.
“Santa Barbara Firefighters Local 2046 remains committed to serving it’s members, the public, and the County of Santa Barbara. It will continue to cooperate fully with the authorities and intends to prosecute to the fullest extent of the law any individuals that have engaged in criminal acts against its members or the Local,” Estabrook said.