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Fire Dept. manager pleads guilty to embezzling $333k

The former office manager for Fletcher Fire & Rescue pleaded guilty in federal court last month to charges that she embezzled $333,000 from the department over a seven-year period.

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Brenda Glenn Livingston, who had worked at the department since 2003, is awaiting sentencing on the charges after her guilty plea before Magistrate Judge Dennis Howell in U.S. District Court in Asheville on July 25. It appears that Livingston and her attorney are fast-tracking the case to a resolution. The fire department discovered the alleged embezzlement last November. By May, Livingston had confessed to the fire chief, the Fletcher Fire & Rescue Board of Directors and SBI agents, according to court documents. She accepted the facts in a bill of information on July 9 and waived her right to a time-consuming grand jury indictment.
Court records said that on Nov. 16, Fire Chief Greg Garland noticed discrepancies in a budget report he had requested from Livingston.
“I was looking over some financial paperwork that I was preparing for our board meeting and it didn’t look right,” Garland said in an interview Tuesday.
When he asked for copies of recent credit card statements, “Livingston lied to Garland and said she did not have the requested credit card statements,” the bill of information said. Livingston left the bank later that day and withdrew $7,500 from her IRA at a local bank and used it to make a payment on the fire department credit card.
By then suspicious, Garland obtained copies of credit card statements from the department’s account at First Citizens Bank and discovered numerous withdrawals and cash advances going back years. When he notified the bank, bank officials told him that Livingston had made the withdrawals. Subsequently, Garland and Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Creasman confronted Livingston about the cash withdrawals.
“Livingston said she used the money to pay bills and buy presents and that the money was gone,” the court file said.
Garland called a meeting of the Board of Directors and during the meeting called Livingston, who repeated her confession to the full board. She used the money for bills “and gave some to her children,” she told them.
When the SBI agents interviewed her on May 12, she again confessed, the bill of information said. Between Dec. 11, 2008, and Oct. 13 of last year, the document said, she embezzled at least $333,600 by taking the cash advances. The transactions ended up costing the department an additional $8,777 in bank fees.
Livingston’s attorney, Ted Besen of Asheville, filed a statement on July 9 saying his client did not dispute the facts in the bill of information and understood the guilty plea she was about to make.
Officials filed a sealed presentencing investigation on July 28. A sentencing hearing has not been set.
“I’ve been notified of that,” City Manager Mark Biberdorf said when asked about Livingston’s guilty plea. “The fire department’s taking the lead restitution-wise or otherwise because she was a fire department employee.”
Neither the city manager nor the mayor and town council have supervisory authority over fire department personnel.
“It’s not a town department,” Biberdorf said. “We contract with the fire department. We collect the property taxes and turn them over.” Supported by a property tax of 11.5 cents per $100 valuation, Fletcher Fire & Rescue has a 2016-17 budget of $1.4 million.
Chief Garland said the Board of Directors and its president, William Wilson, are following the case.
“Yes, our board of directors is pursuing that to get restitution,” Garland said.