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After beating federal charges as a corporation, many new members have filled out the squad.
Thursday, July 25, 2013
SALTVILLE — The Saltville Rescue Squad is on a rebound of sorts.
More names are landing on its roster of volunteers. Its fleet of ambulances is safe from federal prosecutors looking to cover the cost of an insurance-fraud scheme. And the marquee outside its headquarters boasts new management.
“Staying open to serve you,” the sign proclaims.
New squad Captain Bill Garrison merely shakes his head and gulps air through gritted teeth when asked the reason for the turnaround.
“I think it’s just a fresh face … or maybe just a different outlook,” he answered. “It’s hard to say.”
More than a year has passed since the squad landed in federal court amid accusations that it cheated Medicare and private insurers out of nearly $1 million.
The squad as a corporation won a jury’s not-guilty verdict last fall. But former employee Monica Jane Hicks drew two years of probation and former Captain Eddie Wayne Louthian Sr. is now serving a four-year sentence in federal prison.
Despite those woes, the near knock-out punch came in June, when the former board voted to shutter the squad. But an in-house technicality voided the vote. It turns out such a decision had to come in front of the entire membership instead of behind closed doors.
A follow-up attempt to close the squad — in a meeting with all squad members — failed, show federal court records.
“A motion was made and seconded to cease operations and not dissolve the corporation. Motion was discussed and motion failed to pass,” squad President Daisy Maloyed wrote to the squad’s lawyer. “Our squad is currently running calls with no plans to close.”
In the end, the failed bid to close resulted in the mass exodus of many top squad officials. They’ve since been replaced. Membership included seven active members to man ambulances when Garrison took over several weeks ago. Now the squad has 19 people to do the job, he said.
“We’re not going to close,” Garrison said Tuesday. “We’re going to keep it going like we have for 55 years.”
Still, the failed move landed the squad back in a federal courtroom to contend with a June 18 protective order placing control of the squad’s bank account, vehicles and land in the court’s hands.
Since Louthian’s guilty verdict, prosecutors had sought to recoup the money lost to the fraud scheme by selling off squad property.
But a judge nixed those plans months ago when he ruled against seizing the property of an acquitted defendant.
Court documents suggest that an anonymous Saltville official recently told prosecutors that the squad would close and sell off its assets.
The squad disputes the anonymous warning, however.
“There is no indication … of the source of the information or any way to judge the credibility of the person or the motives of the person who reportedly made this telephone call, or the source of their information,” squad attorney R. Wayne Austin recently wrote to the court.
Austin and federal prosecutors will wrangle over the protective order Monday in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.
The hearing aside, Garrison’s job is to spread the word of the squad’s rebirth and to put to rest any rumor of its demise.
“We’re here for the community,” he said. “Without this ambulance service, Saltville is going to be in jeopardy.”
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