Former Magnolia Fire Chief Vincent pleads guilty to Abuse of Official Capacity, as ESD #10 seeks to recover from Riley-driven sex scandal

Convicted former Fire Chief Gary Vincent.

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Conroe and Magnolia, May 28 – Former Magnolia Fire Chief Gary Vincent, who, along with Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley, was at the epicenter of the scandal involving Emergency Services District #10 (ESD #10), which this newspaper broker earlier this year, pled guilty to Abuse of Official Capacity in the 221st District Court, Judge Lisa Michalk Presiding, on Wednesday, May 26, 2021. This newspaper broke the story about the financial improprieties and sex scandal involving former Fire Chief Vincent on Tuesday, March 2. Please see “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/

Sex, diamonds, misuse of public funds sink Magnolia VFD into abyss of treachery under terminated Chief Vincent
Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Fire Chief Elise Noriega, who has never had any fire training, and receives $142,000 per year, plus other benefits.

Vincent was sentenced to an agreed plea of a $4,000 fine. He was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $3,000 to the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department. Gary Vincent was the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Chief for approximately 15 years. On February 11, 2021, Vincent was placed on Administrative Leave due to this public integrity investigation.

Assistant District Attorney Darla Faulkner, who was the chief prosecutor on this case, told The Golden Hammer yesterday that Vincent spent $3,000 of the Fire Department’s funds giving Elise Noriega a scholarship at the time he hired her as the Fire Department’s Public Relations Director. Vincent failed to follow the Department’s rules and regulations for the awarding of scholarships.

Sex, diamonds, and the misuse of public funds overwhelmed the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) and created a leadership mess, as a result of the actions of Vincent.  As the District Attorney’s Office and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office investigated Vincent and MVFD, Vincent terminated Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Grant in retaliation for Grant’s cooperation with law enforcement authorities. Grant filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Fire Department.

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 Elise 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 contends in his whistleblower lawsuit that Vincent consulted with no other individuals within MVFD before he made any of the hiring decisions with respect to Noriega. Grant also contends 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.

Grant, who is suing Vincent and MVFD in a case pending in the 284th District Court in Conroe, claims that Vincent terminated Grant on December 14, 2020, “because Mr. Vincent found out that he [Grant] had spoken with an investigator from the Montgomery County District Attorney’s office about Mr. Vincent’s misconduct.” Grant was a 5-year veteran of the Department and a 31-year certified Texas firefighter. Grant had no disciplinary history with the Department.

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 The Golden Hammer broke the story on March 2 regarding the financial corruption and sex scandal, the entire Board of Directors of the Emergency Services District Number #10 resigned three days later, according to sources who remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. Precinct 2 Montgomery County Commissioner Charlie Riley, who appointed the entire Board and who has a duty of oversight of the finances and operations of ESD #10 has not indicated that he will resign nor has he indicated any remorse for his failures in oversight of ESD #10 or the MVFD. Riley’s best friend, former Montgomery County Sheriff Tommy Gage, served as the Assistant Treasurer of ESD #10 and also resigned along with the rest of the ESD #10 Board.

MCDA Public Integrity Investigator Jon Buckholtz investigated this case. The investigation revealed that Vincent misused government money by hiring an unqualified employee for personal reasons and abusing his power by disregarding both ESD 10 and department policies and procedures put in place to protect Montgomery county taxpayers.
This investigation also revealed a lack of oversight by the ESD # 10 board, who have all since resigned.
Assistant District Attorney Darla Faulkner said, “Gary Vincent abused his position of authority and allowed his selfish desires to effect his decision making and judgment. His selfishness caused a ripple effect in the department and ended up hurting so many good, hard working employees. Fortunately, the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department is now under the leadership of Fire Chief Jeffrey Hevey and a new ESD 10 board, all of whom are making positive changes that will benefit the people they are entrusted to serve.”
District Attorney Brett Ligon added, “Here we have a civil servant who had every chance to serve the citizens of this county with distinction, and to receive the appropriate appreciation for his service. Instead, his selfishness and lack of personal discipline destroyed whatever professional reputation he had once achieved, and he has dishonored his agency and disappointed everyone who knew him. With this plea, he formally accepts responsibility for abusing the public trust, betraying his co-workers, and ruining a once illustrious career. Actions have consequences.”
The Golden Hammer‘s Publisher Kelli Cox noted, “Our reporting on the ESD #10 and Vincent financial and sex scandal illustrates why journalists comprise the ‘fourth estate’ of government. We serve as a vital watchdog to bring forward the truth, even when our government tried to hide the facts from us. Congratulations to the brave men and women of the Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department who served as confidential informants to this newspaper. They’re the real heroes of this story.”

 

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