Embezzlement Suspect Arrested
Laurel Leader-Call Article
Hosed: Ex-Fire Council president, Calhoun chief arrested for embezzling from fire service
William Lee Garick, 42, is charged with two counts of embezzlement after being accused of taking funds from the Jones County Fire Service account and the Calhoun Volunteer Fire account and using the money for personal and business expenses. He made his initial appearance in Jones County Justice Court on Wednesday afternoon.
He walked by a reporter and declined comment, staring straight ahead as he walked to and from the courtroom. Several fellow firefighters turned their back on him as he walked inside. Judge David Lyons set Garick's bond at $60,000 - $50,000 on the charge for taking council funds and $10,000 on the charge of taking Calhoun VFD funds.
Lyons looked surprised and said, "There's a lot of missing money ..."
Garick swore under oath that he owned nothing that could be converted to cash and used to hire a lawyer, and testified that he had only $1,500 in a bank account.
The amount taken from the council fund could be as high as a half-million dollars, one source said, but it's likely that the amount investigators will say they can prove will be between $250,000 and $400,000, which could be the biggest case of taxpayer fraud in county history. Whatever the amount that can be proved is, it will "easily pass the $25,000 threshold" that's required for Garick to face the maximum prison sentence of 20 years, Sgt. J.D. Carter of the Jones County Sheriff's Department said.
Garick was taken into custody without incident Tuesday morning at his home on Trails End in the Calhoun Community. The arrest came after a month-long investigation by the JCSD, the Jones County District Attorney's Office, the state Auditor's Office and Homeland Security. A bomb squad from the Clinton Police Department and a bomb-sniffing K9 from the Madison Police Department searched the property first because there was concern that Garick - who had expressed militant and anti-government views in the recent past and was known to have a cache of weapons - may not be taken into custody quietly.
But when law enforcement arrived, Garick was calm and cooperative, Sheriff Joe Berlin said.
"He knew he had messed up," Berlin said. "He said, 'I wouldn't do anything to hurt y'all; I'm for y'all, not against y'all.'"
It's been a tough case for Berlin and other local officials because Garick has worked by their side through countless crises while serving the county for the last quarter century.
"He's like a brother to me," Berlin said, expressing the same sentiment as many others on the scene. "I've known him for years. I never saw it coming ... but the law is the law, and if you break it, we're going to do everything we can to prosecute you to the fullest extent."
Garick had been chief of the Calhoun Volunteer Fire Department and served as president of the Jones County Fire Council for almost two years. He also owns a business called Redline Solutions, LLC, which creates logos and even did the stickers for new JCSD Dodge Durango patrol vehicles and its ATV, according to the company's Facebook page. It also did lighting and logos for the Jones College Campus Police, Jones County Emergency Operations and Jones County Fire Coordinator vehicles, among others, and showed a Laurel Police Department badge in a special carrying case he offered for sale.
Some of Garick's business items may have been purchased with fire council funds, but plenty went for personal items, including a side-by-side ATV, a zero-turn mower, an above-ground pool, firearms and numerous Amazon purchases and cash-app transfers that were used to pay his employees and/or his family.
Investigators spent much of the morning seizing items - including several firearms - "that we can prove was bought with Jones County Fire Council funds," Berlin said. "It's going to be a long process."
Carter agreed, saying, "It's going to take a long time to sort through all of the paperwork," but the Fire Council is "100 percent on board, helping with anything we need."
The Jones County Fire Council issued a statement expressing that its members were "deeply saddened" by the news of the embezzlement.
"To think of one of our leaders taking funds meant for the protection of the county is unthinkable and unconscionable," wrote Dana Bumgardner, spokeswoman for the council. "Those actions, if proved true, have single-handedly caused a breach of trust between the citizens of Jones County and the volunteer firefighters who work so hard to protect them with no thought of compensation."
The Fire Council had a special meeting on Aug. 10 to replace former officers and reorganize "to make certain this never happens again," Bumgardner wrote, adding that the council will continue to work with the Board of Supervisors to come up with a restructured plan to provide fire service in the county.
In a special meeting, supervisors said the county wants to handle money for the fire departments from now on.
"Leaders, community servants and those in positions of trust have gone astray before," Bumgardner concluded. "This time, it is in our house. For that, the Council remains truly sorry. The Council will continue to do all it can to make the citizens, fire departments and firefighters whole and earn back the trust we lost from each of you. Additionally, we will continue to work with each law enforcement agency involved in the investigation, to ensure that the person responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."
"I'm sorry that your precious tax dollars have been hurt, and this is all inexcusable," she wrote, in part. "But me, my mom, my sister and the rest of my family all have Facebook accounts and can see the terrible things that you're commenting. If any of you can tell me that you have never sinned, I will tell you that you're lying. My dad is a good man, and this is nothing to say for his character. He made a mistake ...
"Many should already know this, but my dad was in the fire service since he was 16, so over 25 years, and he helped countless people, some of them likely being your family members. So think about what you say before you say it and think about the other people that you could be hurting."