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Fire district tax collector off the job pending state police probe

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Five Firefighters Laid-Off in Lincoln_180279

LINCOLN, RI (WPRI) — The tax collector for Lincoln’s financially strapped Lonsdale fire district was put on administrative leave without pay in connection with a state police investigation into alleged misappropriation of funds from a town-wide firefighters health care account.

Timothy Griffin was the district fire chief until he was laid off in June along with the department’s other four firefighters, but he retained his position as tax collector, until Monday.

Attempts to contact Griffin for comment, including knocking on the door of his home, were unsuccessful.

District Board of Fire Wardens chairman Joe Tashash told Target 12 Griffin was put on leave without pay pending the outcome of the state police investigation.

“While the investigation currently pertains to the Lincoln firefighters healthcare fund, the Lonsdale board of wardens was compelled to act given the status of the fire district,” Tashash said.

Taxpayers saw that status begin to crumble when the district’s longtime treasurer Wayne Hannon resigned in December. Hannon, who’s Deputy Secretary for Administration with the Rhode Island Executive Office of Health and Human Services, has not returned requests for comment from Target 12.

In February, as financial issues mounted, the entire board of wardens resigned. Then, in June, the new board cited finances when deciding to layoff the district’s five full-time firefighters, including Griffin. The Lonsdale section of Lincoln is now protected by the Saylesville Fire District’s firefighters, as the board grapples with getting the district back on firm financial footing.

State police Deputy Superintendent Lt. Colonel Todd Catlow would not offer any details about the investigation other than confirming it involves “allegations of misappropriation of funds at the Lonsdale Fire District.” Neither Tashash nor Lincoln’s town administrator T. Joseph Almond would provide details either.

But a fiscal report on the district’s finances put together by Almond and the board “identified improprieties related to use of health care funds.”

According to the document, the health care fund covered the firefighters in all of the town’s fire districts but “Lonsdale officials were responsible to receive, maintain, distribute, and account for payments on behalf of the participating districts.” The document states district treasurer Michael Babbitt “discovered financial statements that indicate on at least two occasions, funds from the collaborative health care account were transferred into the Lonsdale district accounts to support operational expenses.” A total of about $40,000 was transferred according to the document.

As the case is unraveled by state police, Tashash emphasized the work continues within the Lonsdale district to collect taxes and insure proper fire protection for residents and businesses.

“The board would like to inform the public that personnel is being secured to ensure that residents are still able to pay fire taxes in person at Lonsdale Fire station and online via the district’s website,” Tashash said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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