An Autauga County grand jury indicted three former fire officials, one who recently resigned as longtime chair of the Autauga County Commission, on charges related to public corruption and misappropriation of taxpayer dollars.
The arrested officials were 50-year-old Daniel B. Chavers, former chairman of the Autauga County Commission and former chief of the Autaugaville Volunteer Fire Department,
51-year-old Ernest Terry Stoudemire former chief of the Autaugaville VFD, and 61-year-old Mack Cell Harmon former assistant chief of the Autaugaville VFD.
Chavers resigned from his post in 2010, but his nine-count indictment surrounds using his position as chief and current position as head of the Autaugaville Water Works for personal gain. The counts range from theft, theft by deception and felony ethics violations. Stoudemire replaced Chavers as Chief of the AVFD, and was indicted on 3 counts, along with former Assistant Chief Mack Harmon.
WSFA 12 News confirmed Autauga County funds all of its 10 volunteer fire departments with a 3 mil tax. That money is given to the Autauga County Volunteer Fire Association, which divides the money and gives each department around $100,000. Reportedly, the departments aren't required to report how those dollars are spent back to the county -- a practice approved by the taxpayers more than 10 years ago.
Tucked away from the hustle of city life, a state investigation alleges former Autaugaville Volunteer Fire Department officials gave tax dollars a new life of their own.
"That's what I would like to know, where did it go?" That's the question Autaugaville volunteer Cheryl Howard has been asking for three years. With the Autaugaville mayor's blessing, Howard offered free health and aerobics classes in a vacant room inside the AVFD in 2010. When she realized what tax dollars the department was receiving annually, things didn't add up.
"I was horrified, I wanted answers, I really did. Because there are some residents who have been living in Autuagaville for 20 years and didn't know the fire department was receiving a dollar," Howard said.
Howard recalled examples of unfit equipment, a truck that couldn't survive a three-mile fire run or carry water, and homes that allegedly burned down due to the deplorable conditions and lack of organization. As she began questioning department funding and the need for a governing board, support for her initiative fell flat. Quietly she was forming a paper trail that led to the Alabama Attorney General's office. Nearly 3 years later, Howard feels vindicated.
"Standing up for what's right is always going to be worth it at the end of the day," Howard said.
Danny Chavers' attorney, Chip Cleveland, admits he still hasn't seen the nine-count indictment against his client but confirms Chavers stands by his record and the citizens of Autauga County.
"We are going to look at the evidence once it's produced, figure out what's going on and try to convince the powers that be that this isn't Danny Chavers, you've got the wrong guy," Cleveland said.
Cleveland said he was surprised by the number of counts as he and Chavers have been working with the AG's office on the investigation. While it sounds "negative" Cleveland says he's proud to represent Chavers and will do everything in his power to gain an expedited resolution. What that resolution is remains unseen, as the Cleveland says the investigation could go back as far as 6 years.
"To be very candid, I don't know if anyone can every figure out what money goes where, if you talk to one agency they tell you it comes from this source. If you talk to that agency, they tell you it comes from another source. But yes we're concerned, because we've been indicted," Cleveland said.
WSFA 12 News approached the Autaugaville mayor about the allegations of financial misuse for the AVFD and the Autaugaville Water Works, where he serves as president of the board. He had no comment. A strong attempt to contact members of the AVFD to question the allegations made by Howard was unsuccessful.
The indictments against the three men included these charges:
*Note: the charges referenced in the above indictment are of alleged activities regarding Chavers' positions with the Autaugaville VFD and Water Works.
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