- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 10, 2002

A Richmond County, Ga., special grand jury yesterday accused D.C. Fire Chief Ronnie Few of establishing slush funds from public money, making illegal promotions, obstructing justice and leaving his former department in chaos.

The preliminary report by the grand jury on Chief Few, whom it called "unabashedly pernicious," was the result of a 2 1/2-year investigation into accusations of wrongdoing in the 320-member fire department.

Richmond County District Attorney Daniel Craig said that while the report is "not an indictment," the special grand jury has the power and authority to issue an indictment against Chief Few when its work is completed, which officials expect within 30 days.

According to the Georgia grand jury's 124-page report on Chief Few's tenure as the county's fire chief, Richmond County political leaders especially those who flew to the District to testify at Chief Few's confirmation hearing before the D.C. Council "owe D.C. an apology."

"Few's pattern of behavior is something no responsible government should ever accept," the report reads. "To manipulate the system so openly is inexcusable."

The Washington Times first reported on June 2, 2000, that a Richmond County special grand jury was investigating Chief Few during the time he was a candidate for the D.C. job, but the accusations were dismissed at the time by Mayor Anthony A. Williams and the D.C. Council.

Chief Few resigned his post in the District on May 21 amid questions about inflated credentials on his resume and inaccuracies on the resumes of his top appointees. Longtime D.C. fire department administrator Adrian Thompson has been serving as interim chief, but the city is paying the outgoing chief through the end of this month.

Five previous reports on county government operations produced by this same grand jury ranged in length from two to six pages. But the 124-page presentment of findings on the fire department contained 66 appendices, amounting to 300 additional pages of supporting documentation.

The report mirrors many of the stories told during Chief Few's stormy 23-month tenure in the District.

The report said city officials and fire department leaders initially looked at Chief Few's hiring as "a breath of fresh air and were optimistic about the leadership Chief Few would provide."

But from the beginning of his tenure, according to the report, he abused privileges, including an agreement that the department would provide up to $10,000 for his moving expenses. Chief Few directed the city's financial office to issue a check to him personally to cover expenses he said he already had paid a moving company and delayed in providing documentation for the reimbursement.

On June 15, 2000, Chief Few admitted to the grand jury that the receipt he submitted had been created and signed by his wife.

The special grand jury also found $236,000 in checks from apparatus sales that were not turned over to the accounting department. Further evidence indicated that fire department personnel had received funds from equipment sales "for unknown reasons."

The grand jury said Chief Few handed out rewards and discipline by whim rather than merit, "destroying morale" and undermining the effectiveness of the department. It said on two separate occasions Chief Few ordered subordinates over their objections to falsify time sheets to pay certain employees illegally.

"The pay raises under Few had more to do with proximity and cronyism than with merit," the report reads. "Soon it became difficult for anyone to recognize a relationship between performance and pay increases." Regarding discipline, the report adds, "Warnings would be torn up for one employee, while the same infraction was punished to the hilt for another."

The department's training also suffered.

"Fire administration made grandiose assertions for the politicians and the media but the reality was much starker," the report reads. "The department had virtually no training but made testing processes to appear otherwise."

While the report points out problems with the county's firehouses and apparatus from sinking floors, leaky roofs, vermin-infested stations and condemned fire engines it details a variety of questionable uses of public funds by Chief Few: $11,314 to outfit his office; 12 pairs of Ray Ban sunglasses at $480 apiece for his "honor guard"; $315 for a white dress uniform; $1,500 for wristwatches with the department's logo on the face; and $4,500 for a "multi-colored booklet trumpeting Few and his accomplishments."

"Few spent good money for comfort and distance from the rank and file," the report reads.

The grand jury found that Chief Few also used public funds to pay for expenses for a conference of the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs, the Georgia Association of Firefighters and the Southeastern of Fire Chief Conference although he was told repeatedly not to use county funds.

"Few's superiors had admonished him that the county was not to pay for conferences expenses and the county also ended up paying out tens of thousands more after Few left town," the report said.

The grand jury said the conferences were of little or no benefit to the department.

"The only beneficiary was Ronnie Few. Secret bank accounts, shady financial transfers, money siphoned from the county and the professional organizations he was supposed to defend and represent; it was done solely in his quest for more celebrity," the grand jury said.

The panel also faulted Chief Few for hiring his friends and associates. Among those were Carl Holmes, an old friend whom Chief Few also hired as a consultant in the District.

The D.C. inspector general also began investigating the relations between Chief Few and Mr. Holmes after The Times reported in December that Mr. Holmes was awarded a sole-source contract worth $23,500 by Chief Few.

The Times reported that Chief Few did not disclose in his financial statement that he worked for Mr. Holmes as an instructor at the Carl Holmes Executive Development Institute.

Mr. Williams had not reviewed the grand jury report and declined to comment, a spokeswoman said.

Chief Few was not available for comment, either. Fire department sources in Augusta said he had been seen there regularly in the past week.

The investigation, which included an examination of equipment, apparatus, financial records and more than 100 interviews, also took testimony from Chief Few himself. "Testimony became like pulling teeth," the report said, adding that at one point Chief Few "physically barred" two grand jury investigators from interviewing a member of the department.

"By the time Few had left Augusta, he was claiming to have created a department that was both modern and 'better off' for his having been chief," the report reads. "Was the Augusta-Richmond County Fire Department better off financially for having Ronnie Few as chief? The answer is an emphatic no. Few was an irresponsible financial manager. Whether it was because he was over his head or was less than forthcoming, Few was out of his element."

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