COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A Columbus fire captain is the subject of a criminal investigation into about $5,000 in cash missing from a department training fund.
John C. Wilt, a 27-year veteran of the department, has been placed on administrative duty pending a police investigation that has been turned over to Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien for possible criminal prosecution.
Authorities said the investigation centers on fees paid by local churches, schools and businesses to the fire department this year for CPR training. Investigators handling the case said it's likely that additional money is missing from previous years, but they do not have a handle on how much.
Wilt was questioned by supervisors in late March about missing funds, and during the interview, he said he had about $1,500 in cash at home, investigators said. Wilt returned the cash and told investigators that he had been keeping it until his supervisor, Battalion Chief Robert Babb, returned from vacation so it would not get misplaced.
Wilt's attorney, Brad Barbin, said his client is being made a scapegoat because of sloppy accounting in the department.
"This is a military-style organization, and when the process and hierarchy break down, it's a serious problem with leadership," Barbin said.
"My client is an honest man who is a good employee of the city's fire service for 27 years, and I won't allow him to be a scapegoat for a management problem."
Wilt's personnel file shows a career filled with commendations for job performance and numerous training programs he developed. Wilt was also the architect of the CPR training program, which started in 2001.
Investigators said firefighters would have trainees sign an attendance sheet; then, they would hand the trainees a receipt for the cost of the CPR classes, which ranged from $10 to $40 a person, depending on materials needed.
Firefighters did not keep copies of the receipts, investigators said, and many of the attendance sheets were incomplete or missing last names.
The firefighters teaching the class separated the checks from the cash and gave the envelopes to a lieutenant, who then turned the envelopes over to Wilt. The checks were deposited, but the department's internal investigation found that some of the cash was missing.
Wilt, 51, of Powell, told investigators that he routinely gave the cash collected at the classes to Babb, authorities said. Babb, who has told investigators that he never received the cash, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
"Right now, the investigation is still ongoing, and we are waiting to see what comes back from the police investigation, and that's all we can say at this point," Battalion Chief Mike Fowler said.
O'Brien said his office probably will decide in the next few weeks whether to pursue criminal charges.
"We are still talking to numerous people and trying to get answers to many questions," he said.