SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — The town’s former fire chief, who is being sued by the municipality for the return of nearly $15,000 from a defunct association bank account, testified Tuesday that he believes he and other members of the group are entitled to split the money for their personal use.
Former Fire Chief Wayne Brown made his comments during the single-day trial in the civil lawsuit brought by South Thomaston against Brown and former firefighter Colin Grierson. The trial was held in Knox County Unified Court in a nonjury format before Justice William Stokes.
The judge did not issue a ruling but will allow both parties to submit written arguments before he renders a verdict.
The town’s attorney James Strong maintained during his opening statements to Stokes that the $14,783 in the South Thomaston Firemen’s Association bank accounts should have been turned over to the municipality for the purchase of a new fire truck.
Brown, however, contended on the witness stand Tuesday that he is not sure the dissolution of the association in 2007 was legal. The association members voted 5-4 to dissolve after the Maine attorney general’s office sent a letter to the organization with questions about whether it was complying with charitable regulations.
Town 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.
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, seeking the money.
Strong is providing his services to the town for free and is only billing the town for any court costs. Former Selectman John Spear said Strong is providing the services for free because he believes strongly in protecting charitable contributions.
Attorney Walter McKee, who represents Brown and Grierson, said in his opening statements that the town purchased a truck but not the type specified by the association vote and that only a vote of the association could change that directive.
Brown acknowledged 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 of Weskeag Retired Firefighters Benefit Fund.
Strong pointed out that Brown spent about $1,900 of the money seeking legal advice from two different attorneys. Neither of the attorneys, however, were Walter McKee who is representing Brown and Grierson.
Brown maintained that even though the group voted to dissolve, the actual dissolution never occurred and thus the members could be entitled to use that money.
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.