TOWN OF GRATIOT, Wis. - A former fire district clerk in Lafayette County is being investigated for allegedly embezzling more than $100,000 over the last five years.
Gratiot Village Attorney Duane Jorgensen said Robert Hermanson, the former elected clerk/treasurer of the Village of Gratiot and the elected treasurer of the Gratiot Fire District, committed suicide in April after being confronted with evidence of "several unexplained expenditures" from the Fire District's checking account.
The Village of Gratiot, the Township of Gratiot, and the Gratiot Fire District have filed a claim against Hermanson's estate of $134,229 in an attempt to recover what is missing from their Fire District's account.
Jorgensen said Hermanson wrote numerous checks to himself and to his business, Murf's Bar, since 2008. He said they were often between $200-$300 and that there were "no receipts to support any of the checks."
Lafayette County Sheriff Scott Pedley confirmed an investigation into "missing funds at Gratiot" and that Hermanson's death was officially ruled a suicide.
"The investigation is on-going with the assistance of an accounting firm," Pedley wrote to News 3 in an email.
In Lafayette County court records, the town, village and fire district allege that Hermanson paid himself a salary from the Fire District checking account for the volunteer position he held. Those checks allegedly totaled $18,000 over the last five years.
The court records also allege that Hermanson had a bank bag in his house when he died that contained $5,429 as well as two other large bundles of cash. Jorgensen said the bank bag had the word, "Camper," on it. Hermanson was in charge of collecting the money gathered from the town's campsite where occupants pay $15 a night.
Jorgensen said there is no evidence of anyone else knowing about Hermanson's alleged embezzlement, but that "we're looking into that. We have to."
"(Hermanson) was a great guy, very engaging," Jorgensen said. "A lot of us don't want to believe he could do this. We're still grieving the loss of our friend."
Hermanson committed suicide on April 9, the day after he was asked about the lack of money in the Fire District fund by Gratiot municipal officials. They investigated the canceled checks from the account themselves after being told there was not enough money to purchase an ATV for the fire department to help with rescues along the trails in the area.
The CPA completing the forensic audit on the Gratiot books is expected to be done with his review within the next couple of weeks.
Jorgensen said the previous practice was to require only one signature per check for the fire district account. He said that has been changed to assure better accounting of public money in the future.
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