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Wednesday, 15 August 2012 12:17

Former Bryson fire chief charged in connection with fire department funds

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The former Bryson City fire chief Joey Hughes is facing criminal charges following a months-long investigation by the State Bureau of Investigation into missing funds from fire department coffers.

His wife, Cylena Hughes, has also been charged in connection with missing funds from the fire department. She was a signatory of two fund-raising arms of the fire department — the Friends of the Firemen and the Ladies’ Auxiliary. Donations from the community to the fire department were funneled through these accounts, which were solely controlled by the Hughes.

Joey Hughes was ousted as the chief of Bryson City’s volunteer fire department last fall after allegations arouse that he had misused money donated to the organization’s fundraising arms. The accusations led to a joint investigation by the Bryson City Police Department, the North Carolina Department of Insurance and State Bureau of Investigation.

A review of public records by The Smoky Mountain News in October revealed: money collected during fundraising drives went unaccounted for and otherwise disappeared from the books; Hughes acted solely as treasurer of the fundraising accounts and denied repeated requests from volunteer firemen during the years to share financial information; and the fundraising arm did not have a board of directors but rather a sham board existed only on paper.

A follow-up investigation conducted by The Smoky Mountain News in November also showed that town officials turned a blind eye to the fire department’s operations. For almost a decade, Bryson City leaders knew something was awry with the fire department’s finances but failed to get to the bottom of it for fear that Hughes would convince the firefighters to strike.

The department’s fundraising arms went unaudited, unchecked and unmonitored for years. The lack of checks and balances created an atmosphere that gave Hughes, a volunteer firefighter, virtually total control of donations to the department and community fundraising efforts.

The problem only came to light last year when a whistleblower approached the Bryson City police.

 

Coming next week:

Indictments against former Bryson City fire chief Joey Hughes were handed down by a grand jury and served just prior to press time Tuesday. More on the specific charges and investigation will appear in next week’s edition.

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