Former volunteer fire chiefs enter not guilty plea

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Former volunteer fire chiefs enter not guilty plea

David Lee Murdock and Travis Morris, former Hernando Beach volunteer Fire Chiefs each entered a plea of not guilty last week for the organized fraud charges against them of more than $20,000 but less than $50,000. Former Fire Chief David Freda has not yet entered a plea in his case. Freda is charged with organized fraud over $50,000. The three men were arrested on Sept. 29, 2017. The charges stem from a lengthy investigation that began when the county closed the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department in February 2017 for issues relating to safety and mismanagement.

Freda’s Probable Cause affidavit states,

“On June 6, 2014 the defendant, David Sterling Freda, was the volunteer fire chief of the Hernando Beach Volunteer Fire Department and signed an agreement with the Hernando County Board of County Commissioners Vice Chairman, Nick Nicholson for limited fire protection and emergency rescue services in Hernando Beach. The funds provided for these services from the Hernando County Clerk of the Court to the Department were derived from special tax assessments levied on the property owners within the services unit. The agreement specifically states that no volunteers were to receive any salary, wages or other forms of compensation and that the department funds were to be used for fire services only. From the dates of June 6, 2014 until January 25, 2017 the defendant did knowingly and intentionally obtain and use the funds provided to the Department by the Board of County Commissioners by way of the Hernando County Clerk of the Court for his own personal gain through an ongoing, systematic course of conduct.

There is probable cause to believe that the defendant, along with two co-defendants [Murdock and Morris], conspired to receive monthly payments in the amount of $29,653.11 in unauthorized salary from the victims' tax funds which were received as payroll wages and which were many times written and signed by the defendant himself. This is also in direct conflict with the agreement made with BOCC and US Code 553. 106 of the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act in regards to volunteer firefighters.
There were several training courses that the defendant allegedly conducted whereby he was paid from same funds. Many of these courses are proven through witness statements, bank records, and Iogistical records to be fraudulent by means of falsified documents and checks totaling $23,000 written to the defendant which were many times signed by the defendant.

Bank and merchant records along with witness statements show that the defendant also made multiple purchases from the Department checking account and credit account totaling $32,069. 14 which were for personal gain and did not serve a purpose for the performance of services to be provided by the Department. Among many personal purchases to include personal electronics, tools, bars, restaurants and cash withdrawals that were made with the funds designated for fire service, the defendant misrepresented training, merchant and travel related payments made with these funds while serving to the benefit of the City of Brooksville as its employee.

This probable cause affidavit is the result of a culmination of evidence based on bank records, witness testimony and other document records which show on ongoing systematic pattern of conduct which the defendant maintained over the stated period of time in order to obtain and use public funds for personal gain.”

The judge assigned to the cases against Morris and Murdock is Stephen E. Toner Jr. and the state prosecutor is Mark Dale Simpson. Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. is assigned to Freda’s case with Mark Dale Simpson prosecuting.

In the state’s discovery exhibit for the cases, they indicate that they are in possession of written, recorded and/or summarized statements of several relevant individuals and organizations; written, recorded and/or oral statements of co-defendants as well as tangible papers or objects not obtained from or belonging to defendant which the State intends to use at hearing or trial.

The state indicates they have obtained the following statements from Former Fire Chief David Freda:

“Defendant's statement to Morgan Koenig (MK) that he (Freda) couldn't be Chief in both places. Defendant's statement to MK that he got Bruce Snow to add language to the contract so that he could pay other people for services, but then bragged about how he was going to use that to pay himself. Statement to Jordyn Devries that he couldn't be Chief at both departments os (spelling error) he appointed Murdock as Chief, but he would continue to run it with Murdock as title. Statement to (JD) that he bragged about getting paid and all the money he was making at the beach. Statement to (JD) that Murdock was his (Freda's) partner in crime. Statement to Heather Smith that he (Freda) wanted to get independence so that he could get paid.

The State also has obtained a statement by David Murdock “admitting to receiving reimbursement from the IAFC conference for travel and not depositing it into the HBVFD account. Stated that Freda authorized them to pay themeselves (spelling error). Stated that Freda never had any credit cards.”

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