Former fire chief turns over money to South Thomaston
South Thomaston — A 10-year-old dispute over who controls money from a disbanded firefighters' association has ended.
Attorney James Strong said Monday that he received four checks Friday, April 7, for the town from the attorney for former Fire Chief Wayne Brown and former firefighter Colin Grierson. The checks totaled $14,915, Strong said, and end the legal fight.
Strong said the town decided not to demand reimbursement for court costs or interest to avoid an appeal and further legal action.
The checks came nearly two months after Justice William Stokes ruled Feb. 14 in favor of South Thomaston in its efforts to gain possession of money formerly held by the the South Thomaston Firemen’s Association. The association's account had nearly $15,000 in it when the organization disbanded in 2007.
Firefighters raised funds for the association in a variety of ways. Some of the money was used for coffee and doughnuts for firefighters when they fought fires, but the overwhelming bulk was set aside to buy fire equipment.
Brown and Grierson had maintained that the town never did what it said it would do -- buy a Class A pumper truck.They argued the truck bought by the town was not the type specified in order to get the money.
Testimony at the October 2016 trial before Stokes was not clear as to what constituted a Class A pumper.
Town officials made numerous unsuccessful attempts to get the money and eventually bought a firetruck in 2014 without those funds. The town then filed the lawsuit in February 2015 to get the money.
Brown acknowledged during the one-day trial in in Knox County Unified Court that he closed the association’s account at Camden National Bank in 2010 and opened up a new account for the association at TD Bank, but said he did so because he did not like the paperwork at Camden National.
Under questioning by Strong, Brown acknowledged he then closed the new firefighters' association account at TD Bank in 2014 and transferred the money to a new account at the same bank under the name Weskeag Retired Firefighters Benefit Fund.
Brown spent about $1,900 of the money seeking legal advice from two different attorneys, neither of whom was attorney Walter McKee, who ended up representing Brown and Grierson.
Brown served on the town’s volunteer fire department for 42 years and was its chief for 16 years until he resigned in April 2006. He also was a member of the firemen’s association until it disbanded.
The Maine Attorney General’s Office intervened in the case, arguing that one of its responsibilities is to ensure that money given to charities is properly used and that the firemen’s association was a charitable organization. In July 2015, the Attorney General’s Office told the town it would not conduct a criminal investigation into the disappearance of the money.
Stokes pointed out in his ruling the animosity that Brown and Grierson have for the town.
"It is obvious to the court, based on the evidence presented at the trial, that the defendants have strong and bitter feelings toward the town of South Thomaston and its municipal officers, and it was that bitter resentment that motivated both defendants to evade and avoid turning over the Association's funds to the town, and even misrepresent their knowledge as to the whereabouts of the funds," the judge concluded.
Brown settled a civil rights lawsuit against the town in May 2010 in which the town did not admit to any wrongdoing in exchange for paying $95,000. Of that amount, $80,000 went to Brown's attorney and he received the remaining $15,000.
Brown had resigned as fire chief in May 2006, claiming he was forced out by selectmen.The Maine Human Rights Commission dismissed in December 2007 a complaint Brown had filed after a state investigator found there were no reasonable grounds to conclude Brown was the victim of illegal discrimination.