- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2001

A Georgia merchandiser is suing D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few, claiming the former head of the Augusta fire department defrauded the company, sticking it with $23,000 worth of unpaid bills from a 2000 conference.
A special grand jury in Augusta is already examining problems that surfaced in the wake of the conference, a meeting of fire chiefs organized by Chief Few. The grand jury is also looking at other conferences held during the chiefs tenure as head of the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department, The Washington Times reported last year.
Now Chief Few faces a civil suit by Dan Cook Associates, which seeks repayment, interest and punitive damages for merchandise it provided for the 2000 conference that was, the company claims, never paid for.
The lawsuit, filed Friday in Richmond County Superior Court, also names as defendants the city of Augusta and the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs Inc.
The lawsuit seeks repayment from all three defendants, but only Chief Few is accused of fraud.
The grand jurys probe of Chief Fews involvement with the conferences is focusing on questionable overtime payments to some firefighters and the shortfall payment to some sponsors, according to documents obtained by The Times, the chiefs former spokeswoman and sources familiar with the case.
The grand jurys probe, which has not led to any criminal indictments since it began in November 1999, also is examining bidding and purchases in the Augusta fire department under Chief Few.
Chief Few, through a D.C. Fire Department spokeswoman, referred inquiries by The Times to his attorney, Tony L. Axam of Atlanta. Mr. Axam did not return telephone messages yesterday.
Chief Few has consistently denied any wrongdoing and said he does not know what the grand jury is investigating. The chief has said the probe is politically motivated, and his supporters in Augusta claimed last year it was motivated by racism.
The grand jury is about half black and half white, according to Augusta Mayor Bob Young.
About a month before accepting the job to head the Districts Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department last year, Chief Few and his department in Augusta hosted the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs Conference, May 30 to June 4.
Chief Few was in charge of several of the conferences committees, including sponsorship, and he directed his former spokeswoman, Katrice Bryant, to head up eight others, according to documents obtained by The Times.
Chief Few was called before the grand jury about a week after being named as the Districts fire chief and turned over documents involved in the disputed conference and two others, Miss Bryant told The Times in June.
The lawsuit states Chief Few purchased merchandise such as shirts and hats from Dan Cook Associates under the authorization of the city and the chiefs association "when in fact they had not been authorized."
"Defendant Few deliberately intentionally concealed the fact that these purchases were not being made on behalf of" the city and chiefs group, the lawsuit states.
Citing Chief Fews "willful misconduct, malice, fraud, wantonness and oppression with specific intent to cause harm," Dan Cook Associates seeks unspecified damages on top of its $23,286.39 bill, along with interest.
Augusta Mayor Bob Young yesterday said he was not aware a lawsuit had been filed and could not comment on litigation.
But he said the city has already denied a claim for the same matter "because it was not an obligation of the city," Mr. Young said.
He said the conference was the responsibility of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs, which is a division of the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
An attorney for both those organizations told The Times yesterday he has not been served with the suit.
"We have maintained that the association is not liable for any debts incurred in conjunction with that conference, which was managed at that time by Chief Few," said Martin Bercovici, a local attorney for the association.


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