Judge sides with South Thomaston in missing money case
South Thomaston — The town's former fire chief has 30 days to provide South Thomaston with a complete record of nearly $15,000 that had previously been held in a firemen's association account and earmarked for a fire truck.
Justice William Stokes sided with the town in his Feb. 14 ruling on nearly every point of its lawsuit against former Fire Chief Wayne Brown and former firefighter Colin Grierson in an effort to have the money turned over to the town.
John Spear, a former town administrator and former selectman, said Friday he was pleased with the ruling and that the judge basically agreed with what the town had been saying for years.
Attorney Walter McKee, of Augusta, who represents Brown and Grierson, said Friday he was disappointed with the ruling because the town never did what it said it would do -- buy a Class A pumper truck. He said the decision would be reviewed before a determination would be made on how to proceed.
The South Thomaston Firemen’s Association account had nearly $15,000 in it when the organization disbanded in 2007. Firefighters raised funds for the association in a variety of ways, including doing controlled burns of fields and catering meals for local events. 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.
When the association voted to dissolve, the members stipulated the money be put in a reserve account for a Class A pumper truck. Testimony at the trial 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 a one-day trial in October before Stokes 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 the town's attorney, James 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 of Weskeag Retired Firefighters Benefit Fund.
Brown spent about $1,900 of the money seeking legal advice from two different attorneys, neither of whom was McKee.
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.