Brandywine School District. Indian River School District. Indian River Volunteer Fire Company. What do all three of these have in common? Patrick Miller. A man accused of financial fraud in the two districts who is not behind bars. High crimes and misdemeanors indeed! But he is a free man. How is that even possible?
Over two years ago, Patrick Miller resigned as the Chief Financial Officer from Indian River School District after their board put him on paid administrative leave. This allowed him to collect his pension. Six months after, the State Auditor of Accounts office came out with an audit investigation into the school district that clearly showed Miller abused his position in many ways. To date, no formal charges have been announced by Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn.
The Indian River Superintendent, Dr. Susan Bunting, was selected by the newly elected Governor Carney to become the Delaware Secretary of Education a month and a half after their audit investigation came out.
When Miller “resigned”, Bunting sent a letter to Indian River staff that has not been published until now.
When will the taxpayers of Indian River see justice for the crimes Miller committed against the district? He is still the President of the Indian River Volunteer Fire Company. While that fire company has not been subject to an audit inspection report coming out of Tom Wagner’s office, there are red flags all over the place. Last week, at a hearing for Mid Sussex Rescue Squad at the Delaware State Fire Prevention Commission, Patrick Miller attended the meeting. Oddly enough, he received a subpoena to testify even though his fire department is not a part of Mid Sussex Rescue. During the hearing, Miller and the Fire Chief, Steven Deerey Jr., were sequestered and were not allowed to speak with any of the Commissioners. The attorney for Mid Sussex Rescue asked if any of the Fire Commissioners had spoken with Miller or Deerey about the Mid-County Rescue case and all of them said no. The case, which would have suspended the license for Mid Sussex Rescue to operate, was dropped by the Commission with a 3-2 vote so Miller never took the stand. But why did he get a subpoena and why was he sequestered? Maybe we will hear that tale one day.
The Indian River Volunteer Fire Company (IRVFC) has connections with the Board of the Indian River School District. Current board member Leolga Wright serves as a member of the Ladies Auxiliary. Current Indian River Board President Charles Bireley used to audit the IRVFC but he stopped doing that after Miller resigned and his last year auditing them was 2015. State Rep. Stephen Smyk has several familial connections with IRVFC as well. His wife serves on the Ladies Auxiliary and his father is a former Fire Police Officer.
As for Miller, part of the audit investigation against Indian River was Miller using district funds in a fraudulent way to benefit IRVFC. This was nothing new for him as he did the same thing when he was a Business Manager at Brandywine School District. Oddly enough, it took a former State Senator to do him in there. Rick Hauge served in the Delaware Senate from 1988-1998 as a Republican. He was one of the prime sponsors of the original charter school legislation. When he wasn’t at Legislative Hall his last two years, he was at Brandywine School District.
In 1998, Hauge noticed many financial irregularities coming from Miller. He reported his findings to the State Auditor. The district was none too happy with Hauge so they demoted him. Eventually, Hauge left the district in 2000. Miller “resigned” in 1998 (sound familiar) and managed to get the Indian River CFO position. The Indian River School District has always claimed the Brandywine audit came out after they hired Miller. But still, I would hope they at least reached out to his former employer in some capacity.
What did Miller do at Brandywine that caused such a ruckus? Some information can be gleamed from this court document when Rick Hauge sued Brandywine over his treatment as a whistleblower.
What was Miller’s punishment for his misdeeds in Brandywine? Information on that is very hard to come by. But it looks like he received probation for a year.
Legend has it Miller absconded with fax machines from Brandywine and they were given to various volunteer fire companies in Sussex County. At one point, when they were coming to Miller’s house to collect the fax machines, he hid them at fire departments.
Recently, allegations against Miller have surfaced on social media regarding his financial activities with IRVFC. While they are just allegations at this point, given Miller’s 20+ year history of financial mischief, I am inclined to believe it. Perhaps he is untouchable. Perhaps he can skirt around the law and financially benefit from the blind eye the state seems to give him. Or perhaps Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn and the United States Department of Justice can formally charge Miller for the crimes he committed in the Indian River School District. Those crimes would include abuse of federal special education funds as well as funds for the homeless.
I have to wonder, since the Indian River School District audit investigation showed an abuse of funds going to IRVFC and at the same time several volunteer fire companies were under investigation, why didn’t the Auditor’s office investigate IRVFC? At the same time, there was a task force dealing with the issue of volunteer fire companies and financial fraud. This led to legislation which passed this Spring in the Delaware General Assembly that gave stiffer penalties for volunteer fire companies that commit financial fraud.
As well, the audit report against Indian River was filled with mentions of “conflicts of interest”. Why did the auditor’s office not mention the connection between two board members and IRVFC? In my opinion, and I’m not an auditor, that would have been crucial information to include in the report. Especially with Bireley since he had a financial connection to IRVFC because he was doing their audits for years. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the audit inspection one more time:
Is IRVFC the third part of Miller’s hat trick? In hockey, a hat trick is when a player scores three goals in a game. But Miller seems to be impenetrable. Or is he? To be continued for sure!