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Jackson Newspapers - Ripley, WV
  • No indictments yet, but investigation continues into McCoole VFD

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  • By Richard Kerns
    rkerns@newstribune.info
    Tribune Staff Writer
    CUMBERLAND – The investigation into alleged fiscal misdeeds at the defunct McCoole Volunteer Fire Department remains ongoing, but no charges were brought during this month's session of the Allegany County Grand Jury.
    Sam Lane, an assistant state's attorney with the Allegany County State's Attorney's Office, would not comment Thursday on any aspect of this week's Grand Jury session, including whether the case against former fire department president Charles Pearce Jr. was even presented. However, he did confirm that the State's Attorney's Office is continuing to probe the allegations of wrong-doing by Pearce.
    "This is a huge investigation involving a huge amount of financial documents and a huge amount of witnesses," he said.
    Lane said that if the Pearce case were presented to the Grand Jury, it would be done so over "multiple sessions."
    Pearce, the former chief of the McCoole Volunteer Fire Department, is at the center of questions that have swirled around the department since it was forced to cease operations earlier this year. The fire department was found to be $1 million in debt and in foreclosure.
    When the county shut down the fire service, it had only one truck and four firefighters.
    Fire protection in the community is now being provided jointly by volunteer fire departments in Westernport and Rawlings.
    Allegany County Emergency Management officials held two community meetings earlier this summer to discuss the possibility of establishing a substation in McCoole, under the management of the Rawlings Volunteer Fire Department. Such an operation would require establishment of a fire tax, which many in the community have resisted, given the unanswered questions about the old department.
    County officials had scheduled a third follow-up meeting for July, but it was canceled pending the outcome of that month's Grand Jury meeting. No new meeting has yet been announced.
    County officials have stated that the probe into Pearce's management of the fire department will include possible wrong-doing in the payment of $3,800 in monthly rent by the fire company to the Hamburger Haven – which Pearce manages -- the use of bingo proceeds and other fire department funds, and the purchase and selling of fire equipment.

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