BYRON TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The former fire chief in Cutlerville has been charged with two felonies after items bought with taxpayer money never made it into the firehouse.
Todd Szakacs was charged Monday with embezzlement by a public official and using a computer to commit a crime.
The alleged embezzlement happened in 2017 and involves a firehouse renovation project. Szakacs was the point person for that project for Gaines and Byron townships, which operate the Cutlerville Fire Department.
“I think it would be safe to say he was the project manager for the renovation project,” Kent County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Joel Roon told News 8 Tuesday.
In that role, Szakacs was issued a credit card by the project’s Holland-based contractor, CL Construction, to buy items for the fire department.
“Any purchases made for the project were then documented via receipt,” Roon explained. “Those receipts were turned into the contractor, CL Construction. CL Construction would then invoice the townships, who would reimburse them.”
Investigators say the contractor has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the case and is cooperating with their investigation.
By 2018, there was trouble in the Cutlerville firehouse. Szakacs was accused of installing surveillance equipment to eavesdrop on firefighters. The sheriff’s department investigated but the prosecutor declined to issue charges.
In December of last year, Szakacs resigned as Cutlerville’s chief but kept his job as Byron Township fire chief. That ended in June of this year, when he was fired by the township for an unknown reason.
While sorting through paperwork found in Szakacs’ office, Cutlerville fire personnel came across receipts for things like a laptop, a generator and a grill. But no one at the firehouse had ever seen these items.
A closer look by Byron Township officials revealed most of the items were ordered online, through Amazon or via PayPal, and had been shipped directly to Szakacs’ home near Holland.
That’s when deputies got involved. An Oct. 14 search of Szakacs’ home turned up some of the items.
Investigators stopped short of saying Szakacs confessed.
“While he acknowledged that some of these items were from the renovation project, it was represented as more of an oversight than it was criminal intent,” Roon said.
Investigators are still adding up the value of the items. It could be $13,000 or more.
No one answer the door at Szakacs’ home Tuesday.
Neither the Gaines or Byron Township supervisors, who were not in office when the alleged embezzlement occurred, would comment Tuesday on how the purchases went unnoticed by township officials.
The lawyer for both townships could not say whether either township knew Szakacs had been issued the credit card. Attorney Scott Dwyer of Mika Meyers issued a statement saying they will continue to work with the sheriff’s department as investigators build their case. He said both townships are looking at their accounting and audit procedures.
Szakacs remains free on bond. His next court date is scheduled for Nov. 12.