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Ex-fire chief charged with theft

A former volunteer fire chief and his ex-wife have been charged with theft of property.

Jason Gates, who was a former Highway 110 fire chief, and Melanie Gates, who formerly served as the department’s treasurer, each face a single charge of theft of property valued at more than $1,000 but less than $5,000, a Class D felony.

20th Judicial Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland received the results of an audit by the Legislative Joint Audit Committee in a letter dated Sept. 19, 2012, almost a year ago.

According to the audit, unauthorized disbursements of cash of $2,425 “were paid to or on behalf of Fire Chief Gates.”

The audit states that a review of department financial records indicated improper transactions totaling $4,175. Those funds, the audit states, “were misappropriated and are due the department.”

The audit noted that proceeds from a September 2011 fish fry, determined to be $1,221, were not deposited.

The report also states that Melanie Gates purchased $529 in gasoline for a personal vehicle using the department’s credit/debit card. According to court papers, she told investigators that she “possibly could have used” the card, but does not remember doing so.

The discrepancies came to light in 2012 after Lucas Emberton was elected treasurer of the department. He reviewed financial documents and observed several spending discrepancies, according to court papers. Emberton, who is now the fire chief, requested the legislative audit.

Gates was arrested Aug. 29, 2013, according to court documents. He is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on Oct. 21 in Van Buren County Circuit Court.

Melanie Gates is scheduled for plea and arraignment on Oct. 11 in circuit court.

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