By Bradly Gill
A member of the White Oak Lake Volunteer Fire Department has been charged with theft of public benefits over $2,500, according documents from the Arkansas State Police.
John Lewis, 71, of Chidester was given a $10,000 bond by Judge Hamilton Singleton on Sept.8 8.
According to court documents, on July 13, 2021, 13th Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Jeff Rogers requested an investigation into the misuse of funds from the White Oak Lake Fire Department. The office of the Arkansas Legislative Audit conducted an investigation from the period of January, 2016 through December 31, 2020.
Receipts, bank statements, invoices and other records were examined, along with personal interviews conducted.
Lewis was the treasurer for the fire department during the time period investigated.
According to court records, the audit found the following discrepancies:$12,955 for 96 undocumented ATM withdrawals that appeared to have been made by Lewis.
$1,088 in payments to various businesses without adequate documentation
$ 102 in fuel purchases instead of mileage reimbursements, for the Fire Chief's personal vehicle when it was used for Fire Department purposes.
$ 96 in disbursements for Christmas party expenses.
According to the report, several debit card charges were marked out on copies of the 2019 bank statements. Analysis of the statements obtained directly from the bank indicate that many of the these blacked out statements correspond to the undocumented ATM withdrawals.
According to State Police, Lewis acknowledged taking the funds for his personal use. Records say Lewis told authorities that in December of 2020 he told the Fire Chief Cecil Hooks that the records "were really messed up" and Lewis said he offered to pay the money back at a rate of $100 per month until he could sell his house and pay back all the money.
According to the affidavit, Lewis said he would take the department debit card, withdraw money and then put the money in his account. He stated he "just come up on bad times and did the wrong thing."
Lewis faces up to 20 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections and or a fine not to exceed $15,000.