Beaufort News

Burton Fire District asks Sheriff's Office to help look for missing MDA money

Over Labor Day weekend, Burton firefighters endured sweltering heat and traffic at the intersection of Robert Smalls Parkway and Parris Island Gateway to "Fill the Boot" with donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Burton Fire Chief Harry Rountree and Beaufort County Sheriff's Office investigators now fear one of them might have filled his own pockets instead.

About two weeks ago, Rountree asked the Sheriff's Office to investigate a discrepancy of about $2,000 between the amount firefighters thought they collected for the charity over the holiday weekend and the amount later deposited into the bank.

"It could be a clerical error, but we're just not positive," Rountree said. "The public trusts us. When they put that money in the boot, they expect that money to go toward (the Muscular Dystrophy Association). We're going to receive some criticism for this, and we're going to be looked at unfavorably by some folks. But ... the public expects an open and honest fire department. That's what we're going to give them."

Sheriff P.J. Tanner said Rountree was right to err on the side of caution.

"If it's a clerical error, it'll prove to be that, and if it's something else, it'll prove to be something else," Tanner said. "That's what the investigation is for."

Burton firefighters have collected donations for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for about 20 years and raise $15,000 to $20,000 each year for the cause, Rountree said.

Founded in 1950, the Tucson, Ariz., nonprofit organization helps those suffering from muscular dystrophy, Lou Gehrig's disease and other neuromuscular ailments. It also funds research aimed at curing those diseases, according to the charity's website.

Rountree said the possibility one of his firefighters could steal from such a cause is difficult to comprehend.

"We would be devastated as a department if that occurred, but ... we would deal with it swiftly and to the fullest extent of the law," Rountree said. "When it gets right down to it, we'll find a way to replace that money, even if it has to come out of our own pockets. They will get their money."