Cumberland Times-News

July 19, 2013

Grand jury to hear more on probe of McCoole Fire Chief

Greg Larry
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — A grand jury review conducted on Wednesday with several witnesses testifying as part of an investigation into the alleged misconduct of former McCoole Volunteer Fire Department Chief Charles Pearce Jr. will continue next month.

Pearce is being investigated for the purported mismanagement of the fire department’s assets that led to the accumulation of nearly $1 million in debt and the company fire station in foreclosure.

“On Wednesday, we did not hand down a bill of indictment. The investigation is ongoing. It’s a very complicated case with a great deal of witnesses,” said Sam Lane, Allegany County assistant state’s attorney.

The McCoole fire department, which had one truck and four firefighters when it shuttered its doors, was closed by Allegany County Department of Emergency Services in April.

Additional witnesses will be heard  Aug. 21 in circuit court on Washington Street.

“We are anticipating more witnesses,” said Lane.

The grand jury will make a determination to proceed with an indictment after all the witnesses are heard, according to Lane.

Grand jury reviews are closed to the public.

The investigation centers around multiple financial transactions and agreements made during Pearce’s tenure.

Public records disclose an agreement that required the fire department to pay $3,800 per month to lease a restaurant Pearce managed called Hamburger Haven.

Other questionable transactions involve the use of bingo proceeds and other fire department funds and the purchasing and selling of fire department vehicles and equipment.

Given the confidential nature of grand jury reviews, Lane said he could not elaborate on the case at this time.

Public meetings on the situation, hosted by Dick DeVore, director of the department of emergency services, have been held with many residents asking for answers to how the once solvent community fire company deteriorated.

“People are looking for answers. I hope this brings some resolution for this situation,” said DeVore in a previous interview with the Times-News.

Fire service will be provided for McCoole by Rawlings, Potomac in Westernport and the Keyser volunteer fire departments. Emergency services officials have suggested that a substation could be opened in McCoole sometime in the future.

Greg Larry can be contacted at glarry@times-news.com.