The former treasurer of an embattled Pasadena volunteer fire company admitted yesterday that he used more than $50,000 in department funds to pay his mortgage, credit card bills and car payments, the first conviction amid a wave of allegations of impropriety that police said they continue to investigate.
Kelly T. McColl, 41, entered an Alford plea yesterday, which allows a defendant to deny guilt while acknowledging that prosecutors have enough evidence to gain a conviction.
As part of the plea, he agreed to pay back half of the money stolen from the Riviera Beach Volunteer Fire Company. He could not provide a timetable for the payments.
In a victim impact statement provided to Judge William C. Mulford II, Riviera Beach's current president, Ed Kiser Jr., said the company's troubles have resulted from a few "bad seeds."
Convincing the public, whose donations the company relies on, hasn't been easy, he said. Firehouse bank accounts are drying up, and membership has dropped off. Those who have stayed are working extra shifts, responding to calls and reaching out to community groups, he said.
"This company is financially, physically and morally headed for bankruptcy," Kiser wrote in a letter emblazoned with the company's slogan: "Nobody Does it Better."
McColl's attorney told Mulford yesterday that his client had been authorized to borrow company funds as a loan and that some money had been reimbursed.
"A good portion of the $50,000 ... was done [spent] in the interest of the fire hall business, like bingo nights," said defense attorney Richard R. Trunnell. "He did take things for personal use, however, of which a substantial percentage was not paid back."
County police spokeswoman Sarah Schriver said police continue to investigate allegations of misconduct at the firehouse. She declined to elaborate.
A fire department investigation last year uncovered allegations of sexual activity, pornography on station computers and firefighters answering calls after drinking. The investigation also accused former Chief Kenneth B. Hyde Sr. of bullying firefighters and using Riviera Beach's credit card for purchases and cash withdrawals.
Hyde, a decorated firefighter who was removed in February as head of the Baltimore Fire Department's training academy after a recruit's death, has not been charged.
Hyde's attorney, Peter S. O'Neill, said, "We're not aware of any ongoing investigation as it relates to any impropriety on his behalf."
McColl, who was allowed to return to his home in South Carolina, will be sentenced in January. He has agreed to pay the Riviera Beach fire company $25,000.
Prosecutors said they are seeking a term exceeding the sentencing requirement of one year. The maximum penalty is 15 years.
Beginning in 1998, McColl was treasurer of the fire company, a position he held until 2005, when he became president. When a new member took over as treasurer, it was found that tax forms had not been filed on the company's behalf.
An investigation revealed that McColl had failed to file tax returns for the fire company over a five-year period and had been making personal use of its funds.
From January 2003 through January 2005, he used two fire company checking accounts that he supervised to pay private bills exceeding $50,000.
According to court records, McColl faced foreclosure on a Pasadena home in August 2006. At previous court hearings, McColl was said to be serving in the military.
Through his attorney, McColl declined to answer questions after yesterday's court hearing.
In a victim impact statement, Kiser told Mulford that trusted leaders "have deceived us." He said there has been a backlash from the community.
"Our solicitation mailers have been returned to us empty or with handwritten messages stating, 'No donations will be made as long as those members are still in office or until we are able to get our act together.'"
Kiser did not respond to messages left at his office yesterday.
"This is a time-consuming effort, but is an effort that has to be made, and is an effort we are willing to make," he wrote. "The future of the fire company is questionable at this time."