BINGHAM, Maine -- A former co-coordinator of a regional ambulance service who asked for additional town money for the organization in January was recently charged with stealing money from the service and fired by the board of directors.
Laurie Laweryson, 50, of North Anson, faces a felony theft charge for allegedly using the Upper Kennebec Valley Ambulance Service's gas card between July and January to buy about $2,000 worth of fuel for her personal use, according to Maine State Police Trooper Chris Crawford.
The seven-person ambulance service board voted in public session to fire Laweryson after deliberating in a closed-door meeting on Feb. 13, according to Donna Dickstein, the president of the board.
Laweryson was summoned the next day on a charge of class C theft, Crawford said.
Efforts to reach Laweryson by phone and email were unsuccessful.
The criminal investigation, paired with a continuing financial crisis at the ambulance service, has caused the board of directors to re-evaluate the organizational structure and money management of the service. It provides emergency care to Bingham, Moscow, Caratunk, West Forks, The Forks and Pleasant Ridge plantations and the surrounding unorganized territories.
The communities each approved more funding, totaling about $30,000, for the ambulance service at special town meetings in early January because, Laweryson said at the time, the organization did not have enough money to operate until March, which is when the communities approve their annual budgets.
In addition to the approximately $30,000 extra to get the ambulance service through the first months of 2012, it is now requesting significantly more money to continue through the year.
It's asking the towns for a total of $227,640 to operate in 2012, up from a total of $120,000 in 2011, Dickstein said.
The $277,640 would be added to a projected $150,000 in insurance reimbursements and other revenue, Dickstein said.
Bingham residents will be the first to vote on the ambulance service's requested amount at Town Meeting on Monday. The service is seeking $94,459 from Bingham, which is more than double the $38,130 approved by voters last year, according to the town warrant.
Dickstein said that the board "understands the concerns citizens would have," in being asked to vote for more money for the ambulance service at town meetings.
"There's not a lot we can say about that because a lot of it was in executive session," she said.
The investigation began when the board of directors told state police that someone was using the agency's diesel card to buy gasoline at the Irving station in Bingham, Crawford said. The board questioned why there were receipts for gas -- about three to four transactions per month -- when the ambulances only require diesel.
"They had no idea who was doing it, and they reported to us. After a lengthy investigation, I interviewed Laurie, and she admitted to stealing the gas," Crawford said.
In the last few weeks, the ambulance service has reorganized positions, is rewriting its bylaws and is in the process of an audit, Dickstein said.
She said that, aside from the fuel card use, they haven't found any money missing.
Laweryson's sister and the former bookkeeper of the ambulance service, Natalie Abraham, resigned about three months ago, citing personal reasons. After that, the agency switched to having a board treasurer and secretary handle the finances and write checks, Dickstein said.
"There will be more board supervision of the finances," she said, in addition to more oversight of the use of fuel cards.
On Tuesday, Abraham confirmed that she resigned for personal reasons. "I just didn't have time," she said.
Though the board recently considered bidding out services to another ambulance agency, Dickstein said it wants to continue to improve and maintain the current ambulance service.
"We certainly need to make some changes," she said, but "we want it to be a local ambulance, a community ambulance that would be accessible to everybody."
Between 2008 and 2011, the ambulance service has seen a 7 percent decrease in emergency calls and a 59 percent decrease in the number of non-emergency calls, all resulting in less income, according to the service's records.
In addition to a decrease in calls, the number of patients without insurance has increased; and the cost of fuel, supplies and payroll has increased.
The ambulances serve people across a wide area -- approximately 375 square miles -- so there needs to be local emergency care, Dickstein said. Otherwise people needing assistance will have to wait for medics to arrive from as far away as Skowhegan.