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Embezzlement charge rocks small community fire station

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ST. IGNATIUS – The St. Ignatius Volunteer Fire Department is reorganizing after two prominent volunteers suddenly left due to allegations of embezzlement – resulting in one arrest. 

On Monday, July 29, Annie Morigeau, 33, was charged with felony theft and forgery and arrested by law enforcement with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and the St. Ignatius Police Department. According to Lake County Sheriff Don Bell, she was arrested at 3 p.m. in the St. Ignatius area.

“There was a warrant issued through the Lake County District Court in Polson for the arrest,” Bell said. 

Annie was the secretary for the St. Ignatius Firefighters Auxiliary board, not the fire department, and was doing work as the treasurer. On the following day, her husband, St. Ignatius Fire Chief Jeremiah “Miah” Morigeau resigned from his position. He was not charged. 

The auxiliary program helps the fire department bring in additional revenue through fundraisers and donations, aside from county and state tax funding. Lake County Deputy Attorney Ben Anciaux said auxiliary members noticed a discrepancy in accounting records and called the St. Ignatius Police Department on June 11. 

St. Ignatius Chief of Police Matthew Connelly requested assistance from the Sheriff’s Office during the investigation and a detective was sent to look into the incident. 

Anciaux explained that the auxiliary board asked Annie to bring in the books before the investigation. She didn’t bring them in and stopped attending meetings, he said. The members went ahead and got accounting printouts from the bank and found some issues.

Auxiliary members found accounting discrepancies totaling $59,801 that most likely started to occur on Dec. 2, 2016. Three accounting problems were flagged and those issues were added up to create the total amount of the discrepancies. Members didn’t find further discrepancies after May 22, 2019. 

Two of the problems with the books involved issues that resulted in the felony theft charge. Records indicated that some of the checks made as donations to the fire department were cashed and not put into the auxiliary account. Anciaux said it's unclear at this time if those donations were from the fire department’s recent annual fundraising picnic. The investigation also found that funds were being withdrawn from the auxiliary account in the form of card withdrawals. 

“These were not legitimate expenses for the fire department,” Anciaux said. He added that some of the purchases were made at various shopping centers, including Costco and Harvest Foods.  

A third problem resulted in the forgery charge. Two signatures were required for checks involving the auxiliary account. Annie was authorized to provide one of the signatures. “For a period of time, the person with the second signature was in Colorado, yet checks were cashed with two signatures,” he said, which gave evidence for the forgery charge.  

Annie’s arraignment is scheduled for Aug. 8 in front of Lake County District Judge Deborah “Kim” Christopher. Annie was released on her own recognizance while awaiting arraignment. 

Anciaux said embezzlement and forgery convictions each carry the possibility of 10-year sentences in the Montana State prison, along with a $10,000 fine for forgery and $50,000 for theft.

Assistant Fire Chief Reese Bailey is filling in as the acting fire chief. “The department is holding strong,” he said. “We are all capable of stepping up and taking care of business and providing full service for the community.”

 

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