GONZALES — The assistant fire chief of a volunteer fire department in Darrow turned himself in Monday morning after city police discovered he had been using an Ascension Parish government fuel card to fill up his pickup since March.
Police arrested Tarrell Markeith Milan, 30, 4572 Brown St., Darrow, on 14 counts of unauthorized use of an access card and one count of felony theft in excess of $750, Gonzales police Detective Sgt. Steven Nethken said.
Milan was booked into Ascension Parish Prison near Donaldsonville late Monday morning.
Fifth Ward Fire Chief Peter Roblin discovered unusually high fuel purchases in weekly fuel card reports for Milan and reported the problem to police Sept. 22, Nethken said.
The 5th Ward department serves the Darrow and Pelican Point areas and is one of six volunteer departments in Ascension Parish Fire Protection District No. 1.
The fire district, which is subsidized by the parish for equipment, stations and some contract services, covers parts of East Ascension Parish outside Prairieville and Gonzales and provides fire protection for more than 72,000 people with mostly unpaid firefighters. In May 2013, voters rejected dedicated taxes and fees that would have paid the firefighters.
After police investigators reviewed the reports, they checked gas station surveillance cameras in Gonzales and saw Milan putting fuel in his Ford F-150 truck at the stations, Nethken said.
He said Milan, who has been a volunteer for nearly a decade, had charged $807.44 on the fuel card since March for his truck.
Nethken said Milan turned himself in about 8 a.m. Monday and confessed to using the cards improperly. Nethken said Milan said he needed the gas so he could get to work.
This is not the first time criminal investigators have found problems with fuel cards.
In late July, Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputies arrested a former parish fleet management employee on theft and other counts in the theft of more than $7,200 in gasoline during June.
Corey Richard, 40492 Adele Road, Gonzales, had access to the fuel cards for parish vehicles through his job in Fleet Management, which oversees, generally, leased cars, trucks, backhoes and other equipment.
Another, unidentified parish employee who was supposed to oversee the fuel cards also resigned over that incident.
Parish government spokesman Lester Kenyon declined comment Monday. He did say the parish is not having a problem with fuel cards.
As in the case of Milan, the alleged thefts by Richard were caught by parish officials through regular auditing of expenses, parish officials have said.
Under the fuel card system, Nethken said, each vehicle is assigned a card and each employee, like Milan, is assigned a PIN to use with those cards, allowing the employee and vehicle expenses to be tracked.
Fire District 1 Board Chairman James LeBlanc said Roblin’s discoveries prompted a probe by the district board, but he said there is no indication of broader misuse of the fuel cards with the Darrow department or the fire district. He said the card checks and balances caught the problem. “The right system’s in place,” he said.
LeBlanc said the allegations against Milan are unfortunate, noting he is well-respected within the Darrow community. LeBlanc said Milan is an “outstanding” volunteer firefighter who is among those most willing to help out within the department and broader fire district.
“These things always happen to popular volunteer firefighters that do a lot for the community. It’s just an unfortunate situation for the Darrow community, and it’s an unfortunate situation for us,” LeBlanc said.
He noted some volunteers may be tempted to see using a fuel card for their own use is not a problem because they do so much for the community, but LeBlanc said improper use of the cards is clearly against district policy. All firefighters sign papers informing them of that, he said.