A Rockbridge County grand jury last week indicted the Natural Bridge Volunteer Fire Department’s former chief and treasurer on charges of embezzling money from the fire station.

Former chief Justin Garrett, 27, was charged with two counts of embezzlement and two counts of conspiracy to embezzle between May and June 2018.

Former treasurer Robert Newman, 54, was charged with 15 counts of embezzlement between May 2018 and May 2019.

Rockbridge County Fire & Rescue Chief Nathan Ramsey said approximately $166,000 was embezzled from the station’s funds reserved to replace firefighting apparatus and equipment.

“This has a tremendous impact on them financially,” Ramsey said. “It’s a lot of money and it’s something they’ve worked hard for years and years to build up.”

Both Garrett and Newman are no longer with the department.

The theft came to light during the annual audit review the county requires of each department. The auditors notified the fire and rescue office in May of the irregularities.

Ramsey said after talking with the auditor and the fire station he realized he had to turn the information over to the sheriff’s office, which was done in early June.

A sheriff’s office investigation led to the recent indictments.

The department has about 20 volunteers, of which 12 to 15 are active call runners, Ramsey said. They average about 500 calls per year.

Ramsey said although the embezzlement will have a significant effect on the department’s finances, the station is still able to respond to emergency calls.

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Alison Graham covers Botetourt and Rockbridge counties and Lexington. She’s originally from Indianapolis and a graduate of Indiana University.

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