Charges filed against former fire chief, treasurer

The Elk Lake Volunteer Fire Company went dark in August 2021, after allegations surfaced that the former fire chief and his wife – who was the fire company treasurer – had mishandled the department’s funds. Now, police have filed theft charges against William and Elizabeth Corter, both of Montrose.

After months of reorganizational efforts, the Elk Lake Volunteer Fire Company announced on March 28 that it is back in service.

According to the affidavit filed April 12 in Montrose District Court, Pennsylvania State Police began investigating the fire company accounts in July 2021 after then fire company president Adam Belles and Elizabeth Darran told police the Corters had removed the former fire company president from the bank account and refused to add Belles to the account.

Belles, now the fire chief, told investigators that he had no access to the account and was not able to review statements or bills.

According to the affidavit, Belles told police that members of the fire company suspected the Corters had possibly been stealing money from the department’s accounts.

Belles and Darran explained to police that there were charges from NAPA Auto in February 2021 for a fuel pump and disconnect set for a Jeep Liberty in the amount of $427.74. Police were informed that Corter drove a Jeep Liberty and that the fire company does not issue vehicles. They also noted additional charges drawn on the fire company’s accounts at different stores.

Trooper Matthew Jones advised Belles and Darran to seek a forensic audit.

In November 2021, police interviewed Sherry St. Clair following her audit of the Elk Lake Fire Department. She listed areas she felt members of the nonprofit organization needed to review, including charges to AT&T, Amazon purchases, Frontier, Gertrude Hawk Chocolate, Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, Wayfair, and several local stores.

Police interviewed William Corter in November 2021 and was asked to explain some of the charges made to the fire company accounts. He told  police that he had been the fire chief for nine years, while his wife, Liz, had been the treasurer for five years. According to the affidavit: “Corter related the audit does not look good, but the public does not realize he put everything back in other ways. Corter explained he did this in contributing to different projects at the firehouse.”

He also told investigators that he believed the fire company made a mistake because they did not have a reimbursement form to keep on file until payments were made.

After investigators reviewed charges flagged in the audit, William made admissions to inappropriately using fire department funds at Montrose NAPA Auto Parts and Cheap Cycle Parts, according to the affidavit.

The charges at Montrose Auto Parts were used for repairs to the Corters’ vehicle on Feb. 5, 2021. He told police he had no money at that time and that is why he used the fire company’s account. According to the affidavit, William related: “he probably reimbursed the money, but he does not have any paperwork to prove this.”

On Feb. 6, 2021, he also used fire company accounts to order ATV parts after he was hired to fix an ATV. He told police, he had deposited the payment for the parts into his personal checking account, then his debit card was hacked and his account was frozen, so he used the fire company account when ordering the parts.

He then told police that he never should have ordered “stuff” through the fire department accounts because he has no reimbursement paperwork to prove it was repaid.

Liz Corter was also interviewed by police in November 2021 and was asked about the Cheap Cycle Parks charge. According to the affidavit, she related: “all I know is I was asked for the debit card so the parts could be ordered.”

She also said she questioned her husband about it but “never got a straight answer.”

Elizabeth was asked if the money was reimbursed and she stated, “as far as I know, Bill and I put money into the fire account, but definitely no.”

Investigators told her the answer did not make sense, and she said she was not sure if the money was ever repaid.

Elizabeth confirmed the charges at Montrose Auto Parts were to fix their vehicle, but that it was the only time they used the fire company account for personal use.

She told police that other than the charges at Montrose Auto Parts and Cheap Cycle Parts, she believed all the other expenditures flagged by the auditor were for fire hall functions.

William and Liz Corter are scheduled to appear in Montrose District Court for a preliminary hearing on May 16.

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