Almost six years after firefighters noticed that $70,000 earmarked for rebuilding their firehouse (a victim of Hurricane Ike) had gone missing, former Crystal Beach Volunteer Fire Department Chief David Loop pleaded guilty to stealing the funds.
Loop, 61, who has been free on bail, is expected to be sentenced June 3 in state court in Galveston where he pleaded guilty late last week to felony theft, according to court records.
In his August 2014 indictment, Loop was charged with stealing the $70,000, including by using a fire department credit card to charge $25,000 in expenses at a Louisiana racetrack and casino between March 2009 and October 2013, according to court documents.
In the fall of 2013, when fire department officials could not figure out why checks they were writing for expenses were bouncing, they alerted the Galveston County Sheriff’s Department, which notified the public integrity unit of the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office.
The department’s 15 volunteer firefighters voted to suspend Loop in January 2014, months before charges were filed against him, according to the Houston Chronicle. The department fired him after he was indicted.
Loop was chief of the department on the Bolivar Peninsula just north of Galveston for more than 15 years. He led the department out of Hurricane Ike, which destroyed the Crystal Beach headquarters and at least two other small volunteer department on the peninsula in September 2008.
Ike also destroyed Loop’s home, and for a time he slept in his truck while working 16-hour days helping to direct cleanup after the hurricane, according to a KHOU story. All his fire crew members were also left homeless, the story said.
While he and other volunteer fire department chiefs in the region were awaiting insurance checks that would allow them to rebuild, Loop told the KHOU reporter he expected his department to rebound. “My goal is to be bigger and better than before,” he said.
The timing of the first theft listed in the indictment coincides with the first insurance reimbursements. It would take more than four years for the department to notice that checks coming to the department had been cashed and not deposited and that equipment recorded as purchased could not be found, Battalion Chief Anthony Skopel told reporters in 2014.
In his guilty plea, Loop admitted he had spent the $70,000 on himself.
In late January, Crystal Beach volunteers elected assistant chief Mark Forey fire chief. Forey has been a volunteer firefighter and an EMS medic for the department for 14 years.
Mark Lisheron can be reached at [email protected].