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North Berrien Fire Board finds evidence of fraud and embezzlement

Tax payers in northern Berrien County are upset after officials discovered fraud and embezzlement may have occurred within the fire departments.

Former fire board treasurer, Robert Wooley, has been charged with embezzlement from a senior center in Berrien County. 

After his arrest, the board took a look at their own funds.

And while the investigation is just preliminary, it does give firefighters enough of a reason to be disappointed. 

"Betrayed, hurt, saddened, not only as a board and a department, but to all the taxpayers in northern Berrien County," says fire board chairman Robert Harper. 

The board learned Monday that tens of thousands of dollars could have been stolen from their departments. 

The North Berrien Fire Rescue is made up of fire departments in Coloma and Hagar Township. 

Earlier this month, officials from both townships asked their board attorneys to take a look at their bank statements.

"We went through the sorts of things you would do if you had an anomaly in your checking account," says fire board attorney Scott Dienes. 

After seeing checks made to cash, signatures that didn't match, and strange transactions, the attorneys "determined that cause does exist to believe that fraud has occurred."

Again, this is only evidence that fraud could have occurred.

The board voted to move forward with a formal forensic investigation, and that could take months.

Wooley is due in court for those previous charges Tuesday, and could face 20 years in prison.

As for the money lost, the board does not yet have an exact figure, but the big worry right now for Northern Berrien Fire is how to pay for this investigation, and they are looking at the city's insurance plan to see if it might be covered. 

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