Politics & Government

Investigation cites fraud

State investigators allege that a former employee defrauded Gig Harbor Fire and Medic One of more than $51,000, mostly in ill-gotten sprinkler equipment.

Their investigation, released in a state audit last week , follows last year’s firing of Michael E. Cameron, a longtime maintenance worker for Fire District No. 5. Fire commissioners terminated Cameron after determining there was sufficient evidence that he charged the district for equipment he then put to personal use for more than seven years.

Fire Chief Robert Black said the value of the loss established by the state Auditor’s Office investigation allows both a criminal investigation and an insurance claim to proceed.

Pierce County sheriff’s officials could not be reached last week to say whether they would forward the case to prosecutors.

Black said the Gig Harbor district has changed its buying practices to prevent this from occurring again.

Cameron started as a volunteer firefighter in 1973 and was hired into the full-time position in 1989, Black said. He was a trusted employee thought to be “above suspicion and reproach,” the fire chief said.

“As we learned, that was not the case,” he said.

Zenon Olbertz, Cameron’s attorney, said he couldn’t comment on the state’s findings because he hadn’t seen them.

Speaking about the district’s investigation that led to his client’s firing, Olbertz said it arrived at figures that he characterized as “highly inaccurate.”

“There are many assumptions that were made to come up with a general figure,” he said.

Two employees expressed concerns to management about Cameron’s purchases in May 2009. He was placed on paid administrative leave three days later until his firing on June 30, 2009.

State investigators concluded Cameron purchased $49,627 in sprinkler equipment not necessary to the district. They said Cameron operated a business that installs residential lawn sprinkler systems.

Cameron also purchased $1,430 in other items, including boat paint and equipment, fishing tackle and sporting goods, investigators said.

Investigators said the district gave Cameron the authority to make purchases and “did not monitor to ensure all of them were related to district business,” their report said.

Black said the policy has changed so that a thorough review occurs before the district authorizes payment for purchases.

Investigators recommended the district work with law enforcement to recover the money as well as $943 in investigation costs from Cameron.

Cameron declined the investigators’ request for an interview, according to the report.