Bill Fleiner, a former Lewis and Clark County undersheriff, is accused of embezzling more than $34,000 from three federal agency programs during his tenure as Broadwater County’s Disaster and Emergency Services coordinator in 2012.
According to documents filed in U.S. District Court, a grand jury has charged Fleiner with three counts of theft from a local government receiving federal funding. If convicted, Fleiner could be sent to prison for up to 10 years and fined up to $250,000.
He is accused of embezzling $19,363 in grant money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; $7,464 from the U.S. Forest Service; and $7,501 from the federal Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.
The indictment comes three years after a citizens group led by Townsend resident Tim Ravndal prepared a “Report on the Peculiar Relationship between Broadwater County DES and Paradigm Communication Communications and Preparedness Solutions, LLC” that was presented to the Broadwater County Commission in 2013. Paradigm is owned by Fleiner, and in the report the citizens alleged that Fleiner, as DES coordinator, illegally contracted for services with his own company.
The group claimed that while Fleiner was working part-time for the county at $31.63 an hour, he also was billing the county between $80 and $90 an hour for the contract work. The group outlined payments made to Fleiner’s company totaling $35,664. The indictment totals are $34,328.
Ravndal said while the “wheels of justice certainly turned slowly in this case,” he’s pleased with the grand jury’s indictment.
“The indictment comes four years down the road—we put the report together in 2012 and presented it to the commission in 2013 that we were wronged as citizens of Broadwater County,” Ravndal said. “I pray to the good Lord that justice is served here.”
The citizens group reported that the PILT money, which is disbursed through the U.S. Department of the Interior, was part of a capital improvement project involving “Interoperable Communications Improvement.”
PILT dollars are given to counties that can’t receive taxes on federal lands. The Forest Service funds were from the Secure Rural Schools Act, which is similar to PILT but administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security money was for a communication planning grant.
Broadwater County Commissioner Laura Obert said on Wednesday that she hadn’t heard about the indictment, and declined to comment until she read the legal papers.
Fleiner was put on paid administrative leave from Broadwater County in May 2013 and resigned in January 2014. He was the Lewis and Clark County undersheriff in the 1990s.
In a 2013 interview with KXLH, he was quoted as saying, “Bills come in from the company to pay for the work, and I have to sign the claim in order to get it sent to the commission. But who authorizes the expenditure is the commissioners. And they’ve been doing that for over a year.”
Fleiner couldn’t be reached for comment on the indictment. He made his initial court appearance June 22 in U.S. District Court in Missoula, pleaded not guilty, and was released on his own recognizance. On Tuesday, court documents noted that Fleiner doesn’t qualify financially for a court appointed attorney, and he is still seeking one.
Eve Byron is a freelance reporter in Helena and can be reached at 406/422-6601 or at firstname.lastname@example.org