Embattled ESD #10 fails to address ethics issues in Annual Audit Report to Commissioners Court, as County Judge Keough proposes to sweep sex, diamonds, ethics lapses under secretive “consent agenda”

Embattled ESD #10 fails to address ethics issues in Annual Audit Report to Commissioners Court, as County Judge Keough proposes to sweep sex, diamonds, ethics lapses under secretive “consent agenda”

Image: Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Elise Noriega, who has never had any fire training, has repeatedly failed her firefighter certification examination, and receives $142,000 per year, plus other benefits. Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough has attempted to sweep the sex, diamonds, and other ethics lapses under the rug of the super-secretive “consent agenda” for the Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Commissioners Court meeting.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe and Magnolia, July 12 – Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough has attempted to sweep the sex scandal, diamonds, and other ethics lapses of Montgomery County Emergency Services District #10 (ESD #10), which operates and controls the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD), under the rug of the super-secretive “consent agenda” for the Tuesday, July 13, 2021, Commissioners Court meeting. Keough and the other members of the Commissioners Court have a duty to review and approve ESD #10’s annual audit, which, under Generally Accepted Audit Principles requires a close examination of ethical practices and legal compliance, as well as a financial audit.

Instead, Keough placed the ESD #10 annual audit under the “consent agenda” where he hopes no one will bring the matter to public attention. The audit report fails to address the ethics lapses of ESD #10 and MVFD, particularly the fact that Elise Noriega continues to draw an enormous salary of $142,000 per year, plus benefits, as an Assistant Fire Chief, who has never had any fire training, and has repeatedly failed her firefighter certification examination.

Hidden under “Risk Management” deep inside the audit report, which Keough has so obviously attempted to hide from public view, the outside audit firm did mention that “The District’s former fire chief, Gary Vincent, pled guilty to abuse of official capacity, a Class A misdemeanor on May 26, 2021. Mr. Vincent was sentenced to a $4,000 fine, and restitution to the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department of $3,000. The District initiated an independent investigation into the conduct of Mr. Vincent while employed at the District. That investigation is ongoing at the time of this report, and the District is unaware of any further issues related to this matter at this time.”

Furthermore, the audit report revealed ESD #10’s agreement to reinstate former Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Grant, whom Vincent had terminated after Grant agreed to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in the criminal investigation of Vincent. The audit report recites, “The District agreed to settlement with the employee which included reinstatement of employment for the employee, and payment of $47,484. The District’s insurance paid $37,484 of the settlement amount, and the remaining $10,000 was accrued to be paid by the District as of December 31, 2020.”

Neither Keough, Precinct 2 County Commissioner Charlie Riley who is also responsible for oversight of ESD #10 in his Precinct, nor ESD #10 ever disclosed to the public the settlement with Grant prior to posting of the super-secretive “consent agenda”  for the July 13 meeting. Grant, whom Vincent terminated, brought a whistleblower lawsuit against the Department claiming that Vincent terminated him in retaliation for Grant’s cooperation with law enforcement authorities.

Vincent, who remains married to his wife, served as the Fire Chief for MVFD, which sits prominently on Buddy Riley Boulevard in Magnolia, for over 12 years. Vincent began an extramarital relationship with realtor Elize Noriega in 2018, according to several employees and former employees in MVFD who spoke with this newspaper on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. In June, 2019, however, Vincent hired Noriega as a Battalion Chief specializing in “communications” at a salary of $123,000 per year. Noriega had no background in firefighting but was to run the MVFD’s Facebook page and communications on NextDoor.

In November, 2020, Vincent promoted his lover, Noriega, to Assistant Fire Chief with a base salary of $142,000. Grant also contended in his whistleblower lawsuit that Noriega has a “history of alcohol abuse and violent behavior as well as a criminal record.”

In September, 2019, Vincent and Noriega traveled with other employees from MVFD to Washington, D.C., supposedly for a business trip. During the trip, Vincent proposed marriage to Noriega and gave her a diamond engagement ring, even though Vincent was still married to his current spouse. Noriega regularly wore the diamond ring to the MVFD office and told her co-employees that Vincent had given it to her.

The romantic relationship between Vincent and Noriega and a number of Vincent’s personnel decisions plunged the Volunteer Fire Department into a very stressful work environment, according to several employees who currently or previously worked there. Vincent’s decision to hire his lover, who had no firefighting background, and pay her more than Fire Captains, Battalion Chiefs, and other Assistant Chiefs caused enormously negative feelings among the firefighters who were to work under his leadership.

After this newspaper broke the story, “Sex, Diamonds, Misuse Of Public Funds Sink Magnolia VFD Into Abyss Of Treachery Under Terminated Chief Vincent,” The Golden Hammer, March 2, 2021, https://thegoldenhammer.net/sex-diamonds-misuse-of-public-funds-sink-magnolia-vfd-into-abyss-of-treachery-under-terminated-chief-vincent/ , the entire ESD #10, which included former Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage who was the Assistant Treasurer, resigned.

Please see “BREAKING NEWS! Entire Emergency Services District Number 10 Board Resigns In Wake Of The Golden Hammer’s Revelations About Corruption, Sex Scandal Within Magnolia VFD,” The Golden Hammer, March 5, 2021, https://thegoldenhammer.net/breaking-news-entire-emergency-services-district-number-10-board-resigns-in-wake-of-the-golden-hammers-revelations-about-corruption-sex-scandal-within-magnolia-vfd/

Keough did not respond to a request for comment.

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