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Fletcher fire department says manager stole $325,000

FLETCHER — The Fletcher Fire & Rescue Department is seeking to recover $325,000 from a former office manager who fire officials say embezzled the money over seven years, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Henderson County Civil Superior Court.

In the lawsuit filed by Grant B. Osborne, an attorney in Asheville, Fletcher Fire & Rescue says Brenda G. Livingston of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and embezzlement.
Livingston “took advantage of the trust and confidence reposed in her and maliciously deceived FF&RD for years, resulting in enormous damage” to the department, the lawsuit said. Specifically, the Fletcher department says, Livingston repeatedly used a fire department credit card to obtain cash advances “for personal purposes having nothing to do with FF&RD.” The embezzlement occurred from 2008 until last year, the department said. At one point in the lawsuit, the department puts the loss at $350,000 and elsewhere in the court file in its collection efforts the department says it needs to collect $450,000 from the former manager.
The department hired Livingston on May 27, 2003, on the recommendation of then-Police Chief John Moss, the complaint said. Soon after being hired, she married Rick Livingston, who is chief of the Mills River Fire Department.
Reached by phone on Monday afternoon, Livingston said he was fully aware of his estranged wife’s case.
“Yes, we are separated, have been since last November,” he said.
Livingston has not been charged with a crime and she has no criminal record, according to Henderson County clerk of court.
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Livingston said of a criminal investigation. He is aware of an inquiry by the SBI because he’s talked several times to agents.
“I’ve cooperated completely with the SBI,” he said. “They’re investigating. I requested that they investigate me. Being a fire chief is kind of like being a preacher. People expect you to walk on water. All people that know me well know that I had no knowledge of any of that. There’s always going to be people that don’t know me well that’ll say, ‘Well, he was married to her, he must have known what was going on.’ For that reason I wanted to be investigated so I could be officially be cleared (and to satisfy) those people that had any doubts.”
In a prepared statement he sent later, Chief Livingston said: “Brenda has been accused of terrible crimes; crimes which I had absolutely no involvement in, nor any knowledge of. I am cooperating fully with law enforcement and I know that I will be officially cleared of any wrongdoing once they complete their full investigation. The accusations against Brenda were as surprising to me as anyone. I have not known Brenda to act wrongly and I hope that this matter can be resolved so that justice is best served. Until then, any further comment will need to come from The Mills River Fire and Rescue Board of Directors.”

“My board’s 100 percent supportive,” he added in the interview. “They’re aware what’s going on and prepared to answer any questions.”
As office manager, Brenda Livingston had broad responsibility for nearly all financial transactions and records, including accounts payable, payroll, banking and communicating with the department’s accountant. She “often attended meetings and provided financial reports to FF&RD’s board of directors and was often given the responsibility of taking and finalizing the minutes of the board of directors.” Because of her “apparent loyal and dedicated service” to the department, she became its fiduciary agent. She “came to dominate and have significant influence over departmental matters that were long entrusted to her exclusive care,” the complaint said.
The complaint provides no details on what Livingston may have done with any cash, nor does it list any purchases she made with the money. Fletcher Fire Chief Greg Garland and Fletcher Town Manager Mark Biberdorf could not be reached for comment on Monday afternoon.