Former Baldwin council member Jeff Murray was arrested Friday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and charged with theft by taking. The charges stem from missing money from the volunteer fire fighters fund.
“Approximately 10 weeks ago, a concern was raised as to whether the Baldwin Fire Department Volunteer Fund was being handled appropriately,” Mayor Jerry Neace said Sunday. “This fund is used to purchase needed equipment for the volunteers, pay for their training and provide a small annual stipend to them for the many hours of dedicated service that they provide to the city and its citizens. In order to protect the integrity of the investigation, the city council turned the investigation over to Police Chief Daren Osborn.”
Chief Osborn handled the initial investigation and advised the Baldwin Fire Department Volunteer Firefighters to hire an independent certified public accounting firm to conduct a forensic audit, Neace said. Chief Osborn turned the audit findings over to the GBI.
“Again, to protect the integrity of the investigation, only the law enforcement agencies know the results of the audit, and the city, its elected officials and staff have not been involved, except to provide information, documents and data as requested by the law enforcement agencies,” Neace said. “The City of Baldwin would remind all that Mr. Murray has the presumption of innocence to the charge until such time as our proper legal proceedings determine otherwise.”
Murray resigned his position on the council effective Feb. 22.
Neace reported, in response to this situation, the City of Baldwin is evaluating its administrative procedures regarding the Baldwin Fire Department Volunteer Fund and is in the process of establishing further procedures to ensure the proper use of the funds, including a requirement that all checks drawn on the fund be required to have two signatures and that the fund be subject to an annual audit.
“The City of Baldwin also intends to have its financial advisors review the situation and intends to adopt any further procedures that they suggest to protect the integrity of the fund,” Neace said.