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Prosecution of former fire chief charged with theft deferred

Former volunteer fire chief John Register’s prosecution on a charge of theft of property has been deferred.

District Attorney Tom Anderson said the deferred prosecution required Register to repay $3,205 in restitution to Pike County Fire and Rescue, money he allegedly used for personal use while serving as chief of the volunteer department. Register also served as the head of the Pike County Volunteer Firefighters Association.

State fire marshal Scott Pilgreen said the investigation began with an anonymous tip that there had been a misappropriation of funds.

“Suffice it to say, the monies intended to be used by that organization were not to be used for anyone’s own personal use, as was going on here,” Pilgreen said. “And by that I mean paying personal bills and buying personal items at various locations, again for personal gain.”

The first-degree theft of property charge is a Class B Felony, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.

Joel Williams, Register’s attorney, said his client did nothing wrong and was ready to go to trial.

“He didn’t commit any crime; he pleaded not guilty and we were prepared for trial,” Williams said. “He didn’t steal anything. He did have a debt he owed, but he acknowledged that from the beginning. Also more than 40 years ago a man died and left private funds to this volunteer fire unit and it has administered a program to make loans out of that money to various people at various times and it would get paid back. The whole thing that he has been stealing is a mischaracterization …

“The implication he is anything but a valued citizen to this community is wrong. He’s done a lot of volunteer work for people and spent money out of his pocket. He incurred a civil debt. He always admitted he owed some money and was prepared to pay it back.”

Anderson said the deferred prosecution does not completely clear Register of the charge yet.

“He has yet to be convicted, but if he fails to comply with all terms and conditions for a period of two years, he would again be prosecuted,” Anderson said. “His admission was in concurrence with all parties and agencies involved subject to strict conditions.”

Register was arrested and charged with the crime in March 2018.

A second volunteer firefighter, Clifton Davis, was also arrested out of the Pike County Fire and Rescue department, charged in March 2019 with stealing $2,000 from the department’s money.

His case is still pending in court.