The office of the state attorney general has dropped the hammer on the former Morris Volunteer Fire Department by finding it in violation of its fiduciary duties and state law governing charitable trusts and uses.
As a result, fire department will have to return nearly 200 items it removed from the firehouse and $126,800 it was holding when it ceased operation on June 30. The fire department has until Nov. 9 to return the items, most of which are being held in a storage facility in Thomaston, and the cash to its successor, the Morris Fire Company.
The Morris Fire Company came into existence on July 1. The MVFD is in the process of being dissolved.
The items that must be returned under an agreement between the MVFD, MFC and the town include a pickup truck, storage trailer, high-tech stretcher, laptop computers, computer software, kitchen equipment, photos and memorabilia.
The agreement, signed by First Selectman Thomas Weik, MVFD President Virginia Steinway and MFC Chief Robert Ebner, was created after the attorney general issued an 11-count complaint issued against the MVFD following an investigation prompted by Weik and others in town contacting the attorney general.
In the complaint filed by Assistant Attorney General Karen Gano, the MVFD was found to be violation of its fiduciary duties and the Connecticut Statute of Charitable Trusts and Statute of Charitable Uses, which require that assets dedicated to charitable or public purposes be used for their intended purposes.
The Board of Selectmen discussed the complaint and approved the agreement last week. Weik and Selectman Erica Dorsett-Mathews said the complaint confirms what they’d been saying since July 1: That what the MVFD did was illegal.
“It was wrong and it should have never happened,” Weik said. “Everything should have remained in the firehouse.”
In a written statement, Weik said the items removed from the firehouse were acquired through donations, grants and other means for the purpose of providing fire and emergency services for the town and belong to the Morris Fire Company. The $126,800 is Morris Fire Company property as well, he said.
The complaint cites as defendants Steinway, MVFD Chief Joel Skilton and MVFD Treasurer Audra Cast.
The agreement was recommended by Gano, who worked with Weik to craft it, as a way for the attorney general to avoid having to file a lawsuit against the MVFD.
According to the complaint, the MVFD was planning to sell or liquidate the assets it removed from the firehouse and use the proceeds to establish a trust controlled by Steinway, Cast and other fire department leaders that would benefit residents of Morris.
Steinway, Skilton and Cast, according to the complaint, caused harm to Morris by misappropriating assets that are intended for fire and emergency services and preventing the assets from being used for their intended purposes.
The MVFD also violated the state’s Solicitation of Charitable Funds Act, which forbids the appropriation of the assets of a charitable organization such as the MVFD from being used for private purposes.