CLINTON, N.C. — A former fire chief in Sampson County has been charged with embezzling money from the fire department he led, according to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office.

Around May this year, the sheriff’s office received a complaint from the Turkey Fire Department about money that appeared to be missing or misused by former Chief Tommy Keith Smith, 51, of Salemburg, which is about 12 miles west of Clinton.

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The funds exceeded $38,000 and the fire department asked law enforcement to investigate. The fire department was also able to provide documentation to help aid investigators, the sheriff’s office said. 

Through multiple search warrants and with information provided by the fire department, it was determined money was embezzled and misappropriated by the former fire chief, the release stated. 

Smith, 51 was arrested and charged on Tuesday with four counts of embezzlement, 16 counts of forgery of an instrument and 16 counts of uttering a forged endorsement. He received a $175,000 secured bond.

“It’s concerning to know that a trusted public official would take advantage of a volunteer service funded by the taxpayers. I commend the courage of the Turkey Fire Department for their help in this matter,” said Sheriff Jimmy Thornton.

The investigation also concluded that Smith acted alone, the sheriff’s office said. Once the department was aware of Smith’s misconduct, he was terminated and was reported to law enforcement officers.