Gary Vincent, the former Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department chief, pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity, a Class A misdemeanor, May 26 before the 221st District Court, according to a release from the Montgomery County District Attorney's Office.
Vincent was sentenced with a $4,000 fine, restitution totaling $3,000 to be paid to the MVFD, and the task of writing a one-page apology letter to the MVFD regarding the offense committed, per case documents included in The State of Texas v. Gary Michael Vincent. The sentence does not include jail time, according to the case documents.
Vincent, who was placed on administrative leave Feb. 11, according to the May 26 news release, retired in March, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
Along with Vincent's departure from the department, Emergency Services District No. 10—which contracts with the MVFD to provide services—saw changes in leadership in March following a lawsuit filed by an assistant fire chief that raised questions about misconduct within the department, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. That case was dismissed May 17, according to county case records. The entire ESD 10 board was replaced in early March following new appointments by Montgomery County Precinct 2 Commissioner Charlie Riley, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
An investigation by Jon Buckholtz, a public integrity investigator with the DA's office, found Vincent "misused government money by hiring an unqualified employee for personal reasons and abusing his power by disregarding both ESD 10 and department policies, and procedures put in place to protect Montgomery County taxpayers," according to the release.
"Vincent misused funds by employing someone who was unqualified for the job and misused funds by awarding scholarship money to that same person against the policies and procedures for that scholarship fund," Assistant District Attorney Darla Faulkner wrote in an email May 27.
The investigation also found a lack of oversight by the ESD 10 board, which has since been replaced, according to the release. Faulkner said in a May 27 email the ESD 10 board should have stepped in when they knew Vincent was violating policies and procedures.
“Gary Vincent abused his position of authority and allowed his selfish desires to effect his decision making and judgment. His selfishness caused a ripple effect in the department and ended up hurting so many good, hard working employees," Faulkner said in the release. "Fortunately, the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department is now under the leadership of Fire Chief Jeffrey Hevey and a new ESD 10 board, all of whom are making positive changes that will benefit the people they are entrusted to serve.”
The affidavit for warrant for arrest included in the case documents states the misuse of government funds totals $750-$2,500 from June 2019 and involved "official misconduct."
"There are policies and procedures regarding qualifications for hiring, qualifications for promotions and qualifications to receive scholarship money – all were violated," Faulkner wrote May 27.
Vincent served as chief of the MVFD for 15 years, according to the release.
ESD 10 hired Hevey as the interim fire chief in late February, and Hevey was brought on full time March 18, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
Since then, ESD 10 commissioners have vowed to be more transparent with the public, approving a communications plan May 13 to improve the district's relationship with the public and acknowledge previous wrongdoing, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported.
“Here we have a civil servant who had every chance to serve the citizens of this county with distinction and to receive the appropriate appreciation for his service. Instead, his selfishness and lack of personal discipline destroyed whatever professional reputation he had once achieved, and he has dishonored his agency and disappointed everyone who knew him," District Attorney Brett Ligon said in the release. "With this plea, he formally accepts responsibility for abusing the public trust, betraying his co-workers, and ruining a once illustrious career. Actions have consequences.”
Eva Vigh contributed to this report.