Big bonuses, questionable pay practices helped former fire chiefs line pockets

HARRISCOUNTY, Texas -- From big bonuses to conflicting reports about who made what, there are new questions about spending inside a Houston-area volunteer fire department.

The KHOU 11 News I-Team first exposed questionable spending of tax dollars on trips, make-up, and shopping sprees back in September.

Now, even Westfield Volunteer Fire Department s longtime tax preparer admits that things don t appear to add up.

I m very disappointed, explained Jim Towey, who performed accounting services for the department for the last eight years. Extremely disappointed whenever any client that you worked with on a long-term basis has violated your trust.

Towey told the I-Team every number he put on Westfield Fire s tax forms came from former Fire Chief Maurine Turrentine.

Those numbers were given to me without scrutiny of the payroll, said Towey.

But the I-Team discovered problems with those figures.

For example, according to Westfield Fire Department s most-recent tax filing, former Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Searcy, and his brother, former Deputy Fire Chief Tony Searcy each made $26,000 in 2011.

But the fire department s payroll records show that Tommy Searcy really earned $59,803.88 that year.

The payroll records show that Tony Searcy s earnings from Westfield Fire were $58,867.88 in 2011.

Pay records also indicated that Tommy Searcy, Tony Searcy, and Turrentine received both hourly pay and salary pay at the same time.

All three also received annual bonuses in 2010, and 2011.

In fact, the Department s books show Turrentine s 2010 bonuses totaled nearly $19,400.

Both Searcys were given bonuses of nearly $7,500 each that same year.

Towey admits, despite his long-time relationship with Westfield Fire, he s never seen the numbers.

He thinks he knows why.

I really believe somebody sequestered that information so it would never reach my eyes, my judgement, said Towey.

The I-Team asked the accountant if he believed the department intentionally provided him with manipulated numbers in an effort to deceive him.

In a way, yes I do, said Towey. I do.

The Harris County District Attorney s Office is conducting a criminal investigation into spending at Westfield Fire Department, but no charges have been filed.

The I-Team contacted Turrentine and both Tommy and Tony Searcy for comment, but either they or their attorney did not respond.

As the I-Team first reported in November, the three former chiefs all left Westfield Fire Department and have signed agreements to repay the department a total of more than $200,000.


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