An amended charge of malfeasance in office received pleas of not guilty in Webster Parish District Court Monday by former District 8 fire department officials, Adam Hurley and James D. Meshell.
After being arrested in March, 2012 on identical charges of malfeasance in office, injuring public records and felony theft, an investigation into the finances of Fire Protection District 8 began.
The pair is accused of diverting funds intended for Fire Protection District 8 outside oversight by the board and legislative auditor.
The amended charges only include malfeasance in office. After defense attorney Marty Stroud filed a motion, the charges of theft by access card and injuring public records were dropped.
In his motions, Stroud claimed that each count "is fatally defective as (they do) not set forth the nature and cause of the accusation in keeping with the Constitutional requirement that the charge be sufficiently definite to permit a defense, to sustain a plea of former jeopardy and to permit the Court to properly regulate the evidence sought to be introduced at trial."
Meshell, who served as Fire Chief, and Hurley, who was Assistant Fire Chief, claim innocence based on their assertion that the board knew the funds in question existed. They also assert the "Coke fund" in particular had been passed down from fire chief to fire chief for decades.
According to legislative auditor reports going back to 1995, Meshell served as treasurer on the district board until 1998.
The 2002 legislative audit for the district by Jamieson, Wise and Martin mentions a "Coke fund," although not by the full name alleged to be on the account. It lists four expenditures that did not have an apparent public purpose.
After their arrest, Meshell was fired and Hurley was placed on paid administrative leave. Both have maintained they are innocent.
"I didn't serve 35 unpaid years to throw it all away," Meshell said.
"As a career firefighter, it saddens me it has turned out like this," Hurley said. "The community is who will suffer.