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Mills County authorities charge former Pacific Junction fire chief with stealing money from department

Pacific juncation presser
Posted at 7:49 PM, May 29, 2024

PACIFIC JUNCTION, Iowa (KMTV) — Mills County officials held a press conference on Wednesday afternoon to announce the arrest of former Pacific Junction Fire Chief Ernest Gencarelli. The 67-year-old former chief is accused of stealing money from a charity account for the volunteer fire department.

  • After a 5-month investigation, Mills County authorities charge Gencarelli with ongoing criminal conduct, theft in the first degree, and money laundering.
  • Deputy Jeremy Ripperger investigated. He says Gencarelli’s successor, Chief Steven Bogert noticed unusual charges on the station’s charity account: “He had noticed some charges at local restaurants and things that didn’t seem appropriate. That started my investigation for the last five months. From that investigation, I subpoenaed bank records. I uncovered approximately $40,000 in inappropriate charges.”
  • In December, all the Pacific Junction volunteer firefighters resigned from the squad due to questions about the department's finances, says Mills County Attorney DeShawne Bird-Sell. The fire department has since closed and the Glenwood fire department serves the community.

BROADCAST TRANSCRIPT:

Pacific Junction was one of the hardest hit communities in Southwest Iowa during the 2019 floods and now, another challenge. I’m your Southwest Iowa neighborhood reporter Katrina Markel and I’m here because the county attorney and the sheriff’s office have announced charges against the former fire chief.

After a five-month investigation, former Pacific Junction Fire Chief Ernest Gencarelli was arrested, on Wednesday, on charges of ongoing criminal conduct, theft in the first degree, and money laundering.

Deputy Jeremy Ripperger investigated. He says Gencarelli’s successor, Chief Steven Bogert noticed unusual charges on the station’s charity account.

“He had noticed some charges at local restaurants and things that didn’t seem appropriate,” said Ripperger. “That started my investigation for the last five months. From that investigation, I subpoenaed bank records. I uncovered approximately $40,000 in inappropriate charges.”

Mills County Attorney Deshawne Bird-Sell says that the financial problems, which led to the county’s investigation, also resulted in all the volunteer firefighters resigning and the department closing in December.

“They were unable to get answers with what was happening with their funding from any source and with that and no money they were unable to continue,” said Bird-Sell

The sheriff’s office doesn’t believe anyone other than Gencarelli was involved in the alleged crimes. The Glenwood fire department now handles emergency calls for the community.