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The former volunteer fire chief of the Hardy Volunteer Fire Company was found dead July 8, one day after he had been indicted by a Bedford County grand jury on 14 felony charges related to the embezzlement of funds from the fire company.
According to a press release from the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, at 9:30 a.m., Bedford Co. 911 dispatchers received a call from 3910 Turner Branch Road, reporting a man was dead at that address. Bedford County deputies responded to the address and found Jeffrey Shifflett lying on the floor in the garage which is located near the house.
The cause of death is an apparent gun shot wound, according to the release from the sheriff’s office. A small hand gun was found near the body. A family member found the body and called 911.
The body has been transported to the Chief Medical Examiner’s Office in Roanoke for an autopsy to determine the possible time and cause of death.
On July 7, Shifflett, along with his wife and son, were indicted by the grand jury and charged with the embezzlement of more than $100,000 from the fire company.
Jeffrey Lee Shifflett, 51, his wife, Deborah Lynne Shifflett, and his son, Cory Mitchell Shifflett, each faced multiple felonies in connection with the case, part of a four-month investigation by the Virginia State Police for the possible mismanagement of department funds.
Jeffrey Shifflett, the Hardy fire chief for the past two decades, faced one count of forgery and 13 counts of embezzlement. Deborah Shifflett faces 13 embezzlement charges and Cory Shifflett is charged with seven counts of embezzlement.
Shifflett was placed on administrative leave from the department when he was first charged back in March. At that time he was charged with one count of forgery and Bedford County Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Krantz said at that time additional charges would likely be filed. Shifflett waived his preliminary hearing on the initial charge and the grand jury returned direct indictments on the additional counts on Tuesday.
Shifflett had also served as a volunteer deputy fire marshal with Bedford County Fire and Rescue.
In March, state police investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Investigation searched Shifflett’s home at the 3900 block of Turner Branch Road. The investigation had been ongoing for several months.
The forgery charge alleges that Shifflett forged a document concerning a fire department bank account, specifically forging someone else’s name on a document to create a fictitious debit account, Krantz has stated. Forgery convictions carry the possibility of a one to 10 year sentence.
Krantz has stated that the state police headed up the investigation in order to diffuse any impression of conflict of interest, since a county department was involved, and because the state police are better suited to handle financial crime investigations.
The search warrant, filed by State Police special agent Garland R. Snead in March, stated that the search was in connection with an investigation into “embezzlement by officers, etc., of public or other funds” and “forgery.”
The search warrant was to include Shifflett’s home located at 3910 Turner Branch Rd. in Bedford County, including buildings, vehicles, wallets, pockets, purses and “locations at this address where the items might be found.”
In the search warrant, Snead indicated that information had been received from members of the Hardy Volunteer Fire Company, “who have personal knowledge of the financial practices and responsibilities of the company” and that the information the members provided “has been verified by independent investigation and found to be accurate pertaining to transactions related to accounts that belong to the fire company.”
Items being searched for included “all credit, debit, bank, purchasing or fuel cards, cash, financial documents, instruments, statements, invoices, receipts or records related to the Hardy Volunteer Fire Co.,” as well as Jeffrey Shifflett, Deborah Shifflett and others. The warrant included all firearms, mobile telephones, televisions and any property purchased from “Gander Mountain, Sportsman’s Warehouse, New London Tractor and Equipment, Vinton Pawn Shop, Super Muscle Parts, Summit Racing, Quadratec Essentials, Extreme 4X4, Powers Tractor and Equipment, Wal-Mart, Iowa Farm Equipment, The Smart Farmer, Northern Tool and Equipment, Lowes, Trader Jerry’s II or Vinton Saw and Mower.”
The warrant’s facts to argue for probable cause noted that the Hardy Volunteer Fire Company, located on Bandy Mill Road in Hardy, has six fire department vehicles, each of which has a “Shell” credit card to be used for fuel purchases. The warrant noted that Jeffrey Shifflett keeps one of those vehicles, a Ford F-250 pickup, at his residence.
In all, the warrant noted that the fire company has 11 cards issued to it from Shell, and that as department vehicles were sold, cards were not destroyed or canceled. “Ten of the Shell credit cards are being used to purchase a disproportionate amount of fuel per month when compared to the amount of training and fire calls to which the company responds,” the warrant stated. The warrant noted that three of the Shell credit cards are not accounted for, but have had recent charges. It went on to state that the investigation showed that Jeffrey Shifflett and his family members allegedly used the fire department Shell cards to purchase fuel for non fire department vehicles.
The warrant noted that the fire company has two VISA credit cards and alleged that Jeffrey Shifflett’s card had been used for “numerous purchases at the Vinton Pawn Shop, including at least one firearm.” It also noted that records allege that Jeffrey Shifflett had used the VISA card to “purchase clothing and assorted items from Gander Mountain, Sportsman’s Warehouse and other businesses that are not consistent with the needs of the Hardy Fire Company.”
The warrant went on to state that the fire company has two checking accounts with Wachovia Bank and that Jeffrey Shifflett had a checking account debit card and checks for one of the accounts. “Records indicate that the debit card and checks have been used for purchases at Wal-Mart and other businesses that are not consistent with the needs of the Hardy Volunteer Fire Company,” the warrant alleged.
The search warrant went on to state that records allegedly indicated that there were other purchases from out-of-state suppliers that conduct business online from fire company accounts. “The amounts and the items carried by several of the vendors are not consistent with the needs of a fire company,” the warrant alleged.
The warrant also alleged that there were “frequent cash withdrawals” from fire company accounts of several hundred dollars each by Jeffrey Shifflett that were inconsistent with department financial operations. “There are checks for thousands of dollars to Jeffrey Shifflett that in the memo section list training,” the warrant alleged. “There are no records, receipts or training material indicating training was received by any member of the fire company, including Shifflett, related to these payments.”
Krantz has said that embezzlement is a form of grand larceny for every illegal transaction of $200 or more. Each transaction could potentially represent a separate charge. Embezzlement convictions carry the potential of a one to 20 year sentence.
In pursuing the case, Krantz said he has a three-fold goal:
• To identify the scope of any misuse of department funds and to determine the appropriate accountability;
• To get restitution of any misused funds back to the department; and
• To use the incident as a “teachable moment” to try and prevent such incidents in the future.
Krantz said such investigations can erode “the public trust” of departments. “Nothing is more fundamental to this community than our fire and rescue squads,” he said, adding that “an overwhelming majority do a very good job of managing their funds.” He said the goal would be to “raise the awareness of financial ethics, to get to the point of avoiding even the impression of wrong-doing.”
Krantz has said it’s important, that the department shouldn’t suffer as a result of this investigation. Hardy Assistant Fire Chief Eric Shell took over as acting chief for the department, following Shifflett’s arrest.
Since the case came to light, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors approved a new fiscal accountability policy for departments that receive county funding.