SWOYERSVILLE — Borough officials are raising questions about a flier soliciting donations for a fire company that they thought had closed months ago due to a theft of $700,000 in bingo proceeds.
Council member Chris Concert said Friday he had been approached by a number of concerned residents who are asking why they received a flier to donate to the Swoyersville Volunteer Hose Company No. 1.
Borough officials said they believed the fire station had ceased operation after two fire company officers, Carol Gamble and her mother, Catherine Drago, had been charged in 2008 with taking the money from bingo fundraisers over a three-year period. Theft charges against them are pending in Luzerne County Court.
Borough coordinator Gene Breznay said he hasn’t seen anyone going in or out of the fire station for months and is aware that the hose company’s fire truck has been on loan to a West Wyoming station since the September 2011 flood.
“Is (Hose Company No. 1) operating?” Breznay said. “I really don’t know. (The borough) has tried to get them to clarify their position … but we don’t have an answer for people.”
Both Breznay and Concert said they are unsure who holds officer positions within the hose company.
Concert has no problem with West Wyoming borrowing the fire truck, he said. But he’s bothered that the borough is unclear on whether the fire station is open and, more important, how that impacts response times in emergencies.
“I’ve tried to sit down with (Hose Company No. 1), but I don’t know who to contact,” Concert said. “I would love to get all three (Swoyersville) fire stations together with the borough and council and talk.”
The flier says donations may be made to the hose company by mailing them to a Kingston P.O Box. On Friday, a West Wyoming truck could be seen inside the fire station and no lights appeared to be on other than a neon beer sign.
The flier also states donations will be used for equipment, building maintenance and insurance, and asks for a $25 donation from residents and $50 from businesses — or whatever the donor can afford.
“This is our 99th year of service to our neighbors and surrounding communities,” it states. “We would like to thank everyone that donated last year and look forward to your support again this year. Without you, our department wouldn’t be possible.”
Concert is concerned with the emergency response time for people who live near Hose Company No. 1 on Scott Street, he said, but is glad there are two other stations in the borough: the Maltby Volunteer Fire Co. on Owen Street and the Volunteer Hose Co. No. 2 on Slocum Street.
Breznay and Concert said they don’t feel that anyone in the borough is in jeopardy because of mutual aid agreements with neighboring fire companies.
Concert hopes the issue is addressed at Monday’s regular council meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. in the borough building on Shoemaker Street.
Drago, 82, and Gamble, 51, were charged in December 2008 after an investigation that began in 2005 with the state Bureau of Charitable Organizations.
Drago, of Forty Fort, had served as the fire company’s treasurer, while Gamble, a West Pittston resident, served as the company’s president. Both women allegedly took control of collecting and depositing money generated at bingo games held as department fundraisers.
The investigation began after Drago submitted incomplete information as part of a routine survey the bureau conducts. A bureau official became suspicious because the amount of revenue Drago reported the bingo games generated was less than the bureau thought it should be.
An audit was conducted, according to court papers, which determined the hose company generated a total of $1,789,529 from Jan. 1, 2004 to Nov. 14, 2007. Of that amount, $1,054,781 was deposited into the department’s bank account, leaving $734,748 unaccounted for.
Search warrants conducted in the case revealed Drago and Gamble allegedly issued checks totaling more than $400,000 to themselves dating from January 2005 to September 2006.
The mother and daughter were scheduled to stand trial earlier this month, but the trial was continued to July 29.
Joseph Sklarosky Sr., Drago’s attorney, said in court papers the 82-year-old had suffered a heart attack and was unable to discuss the case with him. Luzerne County Judge Judge Lesa Gelb granted the request and scheduled the July trial date.
Times Leader efforts to locate a hose company contact were unsuccessful.