Crystal Beach fire chief suspended after money questions arise

More than $100K in question

By Robert Arnold - Investigative Reporter

GALVESTON COUNTY, Texas - Local 2 Investigates has learned the Galveston County Sheriff's Office has launched an investigation into questionable expenditures by the Crystal Beach Fire Department.

The 15-man department relies heavily on donations and a small amount of tax dollars to maintain operations in the beachfront community on Bolivar Peninsula.

"We rely heavily on donations, so people are going to hear about this, and it's going to come back and affect us," said Crystal Beach Fire Department Battalion Chief Anthony Scopel.

Scopel said he couldn't discuss specifics of the investigation, but did say the first sign of trouble came when checks the department wrote for services, repairs and utilities started to bounce.

"When checks started bouncing, the financial stability of the department came into question," said Scopel.

Sources told Local 2 there are questions about the $45,000 the department spent to purchase a boat for water rescues. According to sources familiar with the investigation, the boat has never been put into service and doesn't even have a motor.

Sources also said there are more questions about money spent by the fire department to refurbish a tanker truck that Local 2 verified is still inoperable. There are also questions about $1,900 spent by the department to repair damages to a fire truck.

Local 2 saw firsthand the damage to that truck has not been repaired.

More questions are also being asked about $450 in checks written to a gas station in Crystal Beach for the purchase of diesel fuel. Local 2 spoke with the manager of that business and he said the station does not sell diesel fuel.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the Sheriff's Office is examining a total of $132,459.99 in questionable fire department expenditures.

"We're a family," said Scopel. "We are feeling the pressure emotionally and, as a professional that's in this, it's a black eye on us."

Scopel said questions about fire department spending are falling to former Fire Chief David Loop. Scopel said during the tumultuous time following Hurricane Ike Loop was the only one in charge of the department's pocketbook.

Scopel said Loop was voted out as fire chief last Thursday and was suspended as a member of the department pending the outcome of the investigation.

Scopel said despite the questionable expenditures, the department is able to continue responding to all emergencies in the area.

"Our service to this community has not been affected by this," said Scopel.

Scopel said the department has also put safeguards and new accounting procedures in place to ensure something like this does not happen again.

"We are going to learn from this and we are going to do better, and we will come out a changed department, and better for the community and better for us," said Scopel.

When reached by phone Loop would not comment on the investigation. Galveston County sheriff's officials confirmed the investigation is ongoing, but would not comment on any specific allegations.

Galveston County sheriff's officials said no charges have been filed at this time.

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