VERO BEACH, Fla. - A former Indian County assistant fire chief was arrested Monday morning and charged with stealing thousands of dollars from the county.
Sheriff Deryl Loar said Brian Burkeen, 55, of Fellsmere, used a county credit card to purchase hundreds of tires, valued at at least $300,000. He would then sell the tires and pocket the cash according to the investigation.
He turned himself in at the Indian River County jail Monday morning and posted bond Monday afternoon. Detectives say he also offered to pay the money back.
Jail records show he faces a grand theft charge of $50,000 and five other charges of dealing in stolen property that total $75,000.
Burkeen worked for the Indian River County Fire Department for 29 years, but could not longer cover his tracks once he retired, according to Sheriff Deryl Loar.
“I will tell you post retirement, that when others took over his responsibilities, that’s when that was discovered," Loar said.
The investigation began around Feb. 27, 2018, shortly after Burkeen’s retirement on February 9th.
Loar said Fire Chief John King contacted the Sheriff's Office requesting an investigation into stolen or missing tires from the Indian River County Emergency Operations Center.
King told investigators he received invoices from an administrative assistant in reference to tires purchased from the Goodyear Tire Company at 1920 58th Avenue in Vero Beach. King noticed more than $28,000 worth of tires purchased between Jan. 19 and Feb. 8, 2018.
“Mr. Burkeen even purchased a very large number of tires the day before he retired," Loar said.
Detectives said Burkeen also bought tires at the Goodyear Tire Store at 755 21st Ave. in Vero Beach, with records dating back to 2014.
Through the investigation, detectives discovered similar tire purchases adding up to at least $300,000 over the years at the two locations.
A Goodyear spokesperson says they are fully cooperating with the investigation.
Managers at both Goodyear locations said they asked Burkeen why he was buying so many tires.
They told detectives Burkeen told them he buys extra tires to give out to citizens who file lawsuits when their tires are damaged because of pot holes or poor county road conditions.
King told investigators Burkeen would not be involved in giving tires to citizens who have filed law suits.
Loar said none of the tires that were purchased would fit the cars utilized by the county or fire department.
Detectives said he sold the tires to both county employees and non-county employees in at least three counties. None of the buyers, as far as investigators know, knew the tires were bought illegally.
An arrest warrant affidavit says Burkeen told buyers a believable story, "that he had a friend or relative in the tire business and he could get them at cost,” Loar explained.
He also allegedly advertised the tires for sale on Facebook, but has since deleted his Facebook account.
Now, county leaders are working to make changes.
Commissioner Peter O’Bryan said, ”We will look into this and make sure we adjust our policies to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
King told investigators one of Burkeen's responsibilities was maintaining fleet vehicles and that King trusted Burkeen to handle those matters.
Burkeen made purchases and approved purchases, dodging any red flags, according to Loar.
County administrator Jason E. Brown released the following statement regarding Burkeen's arrest:
Upon learning of possible wrong doing, a report was filed with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office who initiated an investigation. We continue to work closely with law enforcement officials.
We met with the Clerk of the Court and Comptroller, Jeff Smith. His internal auditor is conducting a full review, and we have talked with the external/independent auditors who have been advised of the investigation.
The allegations against someone we have worked with for many years are very upsetting. Because this is an ongoing investigation, we are unable to provide further comment, other than to say we are extremely saddened and disappointed.