A 12-person jury convicted former Monument fire chief Roy Richard Peterson on three felony counts related to theft from the fire district.
The jury found Peterson guilty of first-degree theft, first-degree aggravated theft and possession of a stolen vehicle Friday in Grant County Circuit Court after a five-day trial. He was found not guilty of another count of first-degree aggravated theft.
The charges stem from Peterson’s acquisition of resources — money and equipment — for fire protection in Monument and his subsequent refusal to turn over the resources to the Monument Rural Fire District, which was formed by voters in November of 2012.
The state prosecutor, Senior Assistant Attorney General Daniel P. Wendel, said in his closing argument the first-degree theft charge was for submitting a fraudulent invoices in excess of $1,000 with a grant application to the Oregon Department of Forestry on or about Feb. 15, 2013. Wendel said Peterson used white out to submit the same invoice on different grant applications in 2011 and 2012.
Wendel said Peterson displayed a “pattern and practice” of fraud even before 2012 by submitting invoices and then canceling the order. He said Peterson used the fire district as “his personal piggy bank.”
“From 2008 to 2012, the defendant took every opportunity he could to steal money from the state by submitting fraudulent invoices,” Wendel said.
Peterson’s attorney, D. Zachary Hostetter, said Peterson reallocated the funds to cover attorney fees incurred rather than purchasing the equipment listed on the invoices. He said Peterson used his own funds
Hostetter said, for all of the charges, Peterson acted under an honest claim of right, believing he was entitled to the property or had a right to acquire or dispose of it as he did, which would have been a valid defense under Oregon law.
The first-degree aggravated theft and possession of a stolen vehicle charges were for withholding fire vehicles and equipment in excess of $10,000 from the Monument Rural Fire District on or about Feb. 21, 2013.
The charges stem from an investigation by the Oregon State Police and the Oregon Department of Justice that began in May 2013. Police served a search warrant in October 2013 at property in the Monument area and seized fire vehicles and evidence for the case.
The indictment count for possession of a stolen vehicle lists “a 1970 Ford, a 1974 Freightliner, a 1983 Ford L9M, a 1993 Ford F350, a second 1993 Ford F350, a 1965 Western States, a 1966 Ford 900, a 1974 Western States, a 1986 Ford Econoline, and a 1988 International.”
For about a decade, Peterson was a vocal advocate for establishing a rural fire protection district in the Monument area. He was chief of Monument’s city department at one time and also acted as chief of the rural district that was yet to be formalized.
After the rural district was formed by voters in November 2012, the newly installed board and Peterson differed on its management and operation. Noting challenges with meeting procedures, operations, equipment and leadership, all of the board members resigned in December 2012.
The board was re-established in January 2013 when the Grant County Court appointed new members. The new chief of the district asked Peterson to return the equipment to the district, but he did not.
Grant County Sheriff Glenn Palmer deputized Peterson March 1 of this year to assist with a search and rescue operation. Palmer’s official deputy appointment of Peterson mentions “Search & Rescue” and “Radio Tech/Communications,” though the document also says Peterson is appointed “to do and perform any act which (Palmer) might perform as Sheriff, this appointment to be and reamin (sic) in full force and effect during my pleasure.”
Palmer did not immediately respond to an email Friday evening asking if Peterson was still an active deputy.
Palmer originally investigated the complaint against Peterson.
In an April 25, 2013, letter, Palmer told Oregon Department of Forestry State Forester Doug Decker he started investigating “an alleged criminal case” in 2010 between the city of Monument and the rural fire district over equipment obtained “legally and lawfully through ODF” by Peterson.
Palmer said “there was a dispute as to who lawfully owned what equipment and how some of the funding was channeled through the City’s Federal Tax ID number and their (Dun & Bradstreet number).” He said Ryan Joslin, the district attorney at the time, informed the parties the issue was a civil matter.
Palmer’s letter indicated the fire district board believed it rightly owned the equipment, because it was procured with grants in the name of “Monument Rural Fire District.” However, Palmer said “the grantee” — Peterson — obtained the equipment legally and still possessed it.
Palmer also said the equipment was on private property, and there was no probable cause a crime was committed, nor justification for a search warrant.
“As it stands right now ... I do not have enough evidence, nor do I believe I have the authority to intervene in this dispute,” he wrote.
When Palmer deputized Peterson, he joined a long list of Grant County deputies. The sheriff has deputized 69 people in a variety of categories, including deputy, corrections, reserve, search and rescue, chaplain, special deputy, public lands patrol, public lands deputy and natural resource committee.
Oregon law says sheriffs are responsible for the conduct of their deputies.