Augusta fire inspector accused of stealing fees

Employee allegedly stole fees, audit says

The Richmond County Sheriff’s Office is investigating allegations that a city fire inspector was stealing inspection fees, authorities said.

The investigation stems from an internal audit of fire inspection fees, according to sheriff’s Investigator Dan Ferrel.

Brenda Carroll, of accounting firm Baird and Co., told police that Lt. Lenston Melvin Harris is suspected of taking at least $1,360 from businesses in payment for fire inspections between January and December 2011, according to a sheriff’s report filed Monday.

Ferrel said the businesses paid Harris in cash, and he failed to turn in the money. He said it was fire department policy to accept only checks or money orders for fire inspections.

“They do not accept cash at the Fire Marshal’s Office,” Ferrel said.

Ferrel said there have been no allegations that Harris took cash to expedite inspections or overlook violations. Harris was placed on administrative leave Jan. 30 and an internal investigation was launched following allegations of professional misconduct, according to a statement issued Monday by Augusta staff attorney Jody Smitherman.

Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James said Harris resigned four days later on Friday, but would not comment further.

“This is still an open investigation,” James said Monday.

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