Updated: This story was updated on March 18, 2019, to correct the Riceville Fire Department’s Board’s attorney’s first name.
By Chad Nesbitt
Buncombe County – This morning the Leader broke the story of the Skyland Fire Department being under federal investigation. In a letter, board president Scott Hart said, “The Skyland Fire Department received several Federal subpoenas from the Asheville division of the US attorney’s office for the Western District of North Carolina requesting documents and information involving matters occurring over the last several years. In addition, we received a federal spoliation letter that directs everyone in the department to not alter, destroy or harm in any way, any information, documents or items that may be a part of the federal government’s investigation.”
Now, sources, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Leader that three employees of the Skyland Fire Department have been fired. The newspaper contacted board president Scott Hart and asked if he could confirm if Mark Dillingham, Matt Gibson, and Chad Presley are current employees of the Skyland Fire Department. Hart said, “Those three…are no longer employed here.”
Under former Skyland Fire Chief Dennis Pressley’s administration, Mark Dillingham wrote a check from the Riceville Fire Department to the Skyland fire department for $150,000. At the time, Dillingham was the Riceville Fire Department’s board president. After the Leader broke that story, other members of the Riceville board publicly announced that they had no knowledge that Dillingham wrote the check to the Skyland Fire Department. Several board members at the Skyland Fire Department were also not aware of the “loan.” Dillingham was a division fire chief at Skyland.
The newspaper tried to confirm that Dillingham, who stepped down to vice chairman of the board after the revelation, was still on the Riceville Board. The Leader spoke with Riceville Fire Chief John Coffey and asked if Mark Dillingham was still a board member in the wake of the federal investigation. Coffey said, “This all happened before I got here and I’m going to refer you to our department attorney for any questions.” Coffey told us the attorney was Phil Fisher, but it is actually Perry Fisher and at the time of this posting, he had not returned our call.
Matt Gibson was a custodian at the Skyland Fire Department. Skyland board members revealed that Matt Gibbs gave $125,000 to the Skyland Fire Department without the board members knowledge. Chad Pressley was an EMT and Firefighter at Skyland. He is the son of former Skyland Chief Dennis Presley.
Last year the Riceville Fire Department held several public meetings regarding the actions of then-board president Mark Dillingham. Buncombe County EMS director Jerry Vehaun and Buncombe Commissioners Mike Fryar and Ellen Frost sat in attendance as Buncombe County Attorney Michael Frue and Buncombe County Finance Director Tim Flora answered questions of the public. Tim Flora explained to the crowd that the $150,000 had been repaid back to the Riceville Fire Department. Flora said, “This looks like a loan.” The crowd erupted in anger, and several questioned how a board member could give a loan without the other board members knowing about it.
Buncombe County attorney Michael Frue recommended an auditing firm help with the policies and by-laws of the Riceville Fire Department.
It is unclear how the new federal investigation of the Skyland Fire Department might influence the finances or lead to inquiries by federal investigators at the Riceville Fire Department. More to come on this story as the Leader obtains more details become available.
Editor’s note: Here is one of the earlier stories about Skyland Fire Department’s troubles. This story was updated at 4:50 pm because of an incorrectly spelled last name.