Ex-North York fire chief closer to trial, accused of stealing $16K from fire company

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch

The former chief of North York's Liberty Fire Co. is now facing trial in York County Court, accused of embezzling more than $16,000 from the company between 2015 and 2019.

Stephen D. Miller, 58, of the 2700 block of Clearview Road in Springettsbury Township, remains free on unsecured bail, charged with the third-degree felonies of theft by unlawful taking, theft by failure to make required disposition of funds and receiving stolen property.

He and defense attorney Jeremy Williams appeared via Zoom videoconference for his preliminary hearing before District Judge Jennifer J.P. Clancy on Monday.

It was a stipulated hearing, meaning no witnesses were called and no testimony was taken. Instead, the defense stipulated to the allegations in Miller's probable-cause affidavit for that hearing only.

Clancy determined enough evidence exists for Miller to stand trial and forwarded his charges to York County Court.

She set formal county-court arraignment for Jan. 22. 

Liberty Fire Company Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

Miller resigned as Liberty's chief in April, citing harassment from peers, friends and residents. His exit came after a dispute among borough council members over the public release of a fire company audit. 

"As of this evening, (Miller) has resigned as our chief due to being harassed by many people he has helped as firefighters and thought he was friends with," North York Borough Council President Richard Shank said in an April 14 statement. 

Miller remained a member of the fire company and vice president of its executive board, officials said at the time.

Previous thefts? Charging documents state that a fire company official advised investigators that Miller had stolen money from the fire company's junior firefighters account in 1991 and 1992 but wasn't prosecuted for it.

"Council then tried to get him to resign; however, he refused to do so," documents state.

Charges were filed by York County Detective Jeff Snell and indicate that county detectives have been investigating allegations of theft against Miller for about 11 months.

The issue has been a contentious one in North York, including at borough council meetings.

More:For second time this year, North York council member announces resignation

More:With audit still secret, Liberty Fire chief quits post

More:North York borough concealing Liberty Fire Co. audit, councilwoman says

It was on Nov. 1 that North York Borough Council Member Vivian Amspacher went to the York County District Attorney's Office and alerted detectives there to her suspicions about Miller, documents state.

Liberty Fire Co.'s former recording secretary, Christopher Wilhelm, also came forward with concerns that Miller had stolen money from the fire company, according to charging documents. Wilhelm, 30, died Sept. 8 after battling cancer, according to his obituary.

As county detectives did their own investigation, the North York Borough Council hired the accounting firm RKL LLP to conduct an audit of the fire company's finances. The results of that audit were later provided to Snell.

But borough officials did not make the results of that audit public, saying at the time that it was related to an ongoing investigation.

Steven D. Miller, the former chief of North York's Liberty Fire Co., is accused of embezzling about $16,000 from the fire company.

In September 2019, about 10 members resigned from Liberty Fire Co. At the time, Miller attributed the exodus to conflicts among the membership.

Record-keeping issues: Snell's investigation was made more difficult because Miller hadn't kept records when he rented out the fire station's social hall for parties and other functions, documents state.

Even the 2019 calendar Miller turned over to borough officials had items crossed off, with some of his handwriting illegible, documents state.

One member of the company told investigators it was a known fact that Miller enjoyed gambling, did so on many occasions and "always had a lot of cash on him," according to charging documents.

Documents state that Snell tracked down a number of people who told him they rented the social hall for parties and other events and paid Miller cash but that the cash was never deposited into the fire company's bank account.

Some were able to provide back-and-forth text messages they had with Miller about the rentals, documents state.

Checks cashed: Snell also found a number of Liberty Fire Co. checks written, endorsed and cashed by Miller, made out to "cash," according to charging documents. The company's treasurer told investigators that two signatures were supposed to be required on checks, but that they had only Miller's signature, documents state.

The detective determined that between 2015 and 2019, Miller's personal checking account had been charged $9,060 in bank overdraft fees, according to documents, which state it appears Miller was having financial difficulties.

Snell interviewed Miller on Sept. 16.

"Miller was confronted with all the evidence against him in this case," Snell wrote in charging documents, and at that point confessed to stealing from the fire company.

He claimed it was to support his daughter and four grandchildren, documents state.

Those documents estimate the total amount Miller stole from Liberty Fire Co. to be $16,350.

His mugshot has not been released by the York County District Attorney's Office

— Reach senior crime reporter Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.